In this blog post, you’ll learn exactly how to write the last chapter of your doctoral dissertation. In particular, you will get oriented with the overall goals of the conclusion chapter. Then, you’ll be taught on how to go about writing the chapter itself. Finally, you will be given guidance on what things to avoid in the ever-important final chapter of your dissertation.
The Main Goals of your Dissertation Conclusion
Before going into how to actually write the conclusion chapter of your dissertation, it’s important to review its purpose. Regardless of what discipline you are in, there are certain messages you always want your readers to absorb after reading your conclusion chapter. Basically, your conclusion should always:
Give a general overview of the important contributions of your work – Make it absolutely clear for your committee and the general reader the original contributions of your work and where they are situated with respect to the rest of your research field. A good way to do this is to simply display your contributions in a bulleted list.
Summarize the main points of your various chapters – Especially if you aim to get your work published, your conclusion should always strive to be an ‘executive summary’ of your work. Not every reader will be interested in reading your entire work. This way, you will have this chapter ready to give them a brief (yet comprehensive) overview of the dissertation.
Recommendations – You should always include at least a paragraph on the practical implications resulting from your findings. This is extremely valuable for yourself, the committee, and the general reader. You can be rather flexible with your recommendations as long as they are relevant and derived from the findings of your dissertation research. For example, you can list highly-specific recommendations and steps to be followed or you can list more general recommendations guiding the reader towards certain ideas and principles to follow.
Future Work – No matter how much you have done with your dissertation research, it will never truly be finished. There will always be lingering question marks and open ends. By no means does this indicate your work is incomplete On the contrary, no PhD work is ever complete and, in fact, a good dissertation is one that sparks a high level of general interest and motivates further research in a particular discipline.
How to Actually Write the Dissertation Conclusion Chapter
Now that you have a good grasp of what the general outline should be of your conclusion, it is important to look at how to actually write it. The most important principle to keep in mind while writing your dissertation conclusion is reflection. To illustrate:
- If readers were to go over nothing in your work except your conclusion, what message(s) would you want to leave them with?
- What would your ‘take-home’ message be to your audience? What idea, question, call-to-action, etc., would you want them to have as they finish reading your work and walk away?
These are what you must constantly ask yourself while you are writing your dissertation conclusion.
Usually, you should start writing your conclusion by first taking notes, and you should do this while proofreading the initial draft of your work. In general, you should use the following approach:
- Use an approach where you would 1) proofread, 2) take notes, and 3) summarize every single chapter of your work. This will pave the way and give you the structure you need for your dissertation conclusion.
- After you do this, simply copy & paste these mini chapter summaries and combine them into your conclusion.
- Now you have the ‘raw material’ and with this, you can start to modify and weave together the main ideas of your general summary.
- After that, simply add the sections on practical implications, contributions, and future work/research.
- As a final step, re-read the draft of your conclusion and ask yourself, “Does my conclusion really grasp the essence of my work?”
Pitfalls to Avoid for your Dissertation Conclusion
In general, there are three main pitfalls you should always avoid when writing the conclusion for your dissertation.
Protracted and Rambling Conclusion – A long and protracted conclusion is when you repeat yourself unnecessarily (without adding anything to what you are mentioning) about points you already mentioned in your previous chapters before the conclusion.
Short Conclusion – This is actually an improvement to a long and rambling conclusion, which wastes valuable time on the part of your audience. However, a conclusion that is too short also rambles about facts without coming to a logical conclusion, and does all this using less words and missing vital points/arguments.
Implausible Conclusion – Often times, doctoral students can come to wild conclusions that boggle the mind. They make claims that have absolutely no logical link to the evidence in their research, or that link is very weak. For example, many PhD students (in their very limited small-scale study) make wild assertions that the results of their study should be adopted by public policy-makers, governmental officials, and the like. If you make a list of unsubstantiated claims, you will be wasting a lot of hard work for nothing. Simply stay humble and avoid doing this!
Filed Under: Dissertation Tips, FeaturedTagged With: Writer's Block, Writing
You finish your dissertation with a conclusion and a discussion. These are two different sections or parts, but sometimes it’s difficult to separate the two. This article discusses these two parts and the information that each part must, at a minimum, contain.
What does a dissertation conclusion look like?
The purpose of a conclusion is to answer your research question. Begin, with repeating your research question. However, don’t simply reiterate the research question, but integrate an explanation of it into the rest of the section’s discussion.
Then give the conclusions that you draw based on the results of your research (use the key results that are most relevant for answering your research question).
Finally, answer the main question and explain how you have come to this conclusion of your dissertation. Don’t just list the question with the answer below it, but carefully explain it and incorporate it into the rest of the text. Provide the raw observations and don’t interpret.
Example 1: Provide raw observations
Raw observation: Ten respondents agreed with the proposition that elephants are wonderful animals and six disagreed. Thus, the majority was in agreement.
Interpretation: Ten respondents agreed with the proposition that elephants were wonderful animals and six disagreed. This shows that ten people were very impressed by the animal’s character and that six people hated elephants.
In terms of verb tense, in the conclusion you use the present (simple) tense when you present facts, and you use the past tense or present perfect when you refer to the research that you have done.
Example 2: Verb tense in the dissertation conclusion
Facts in the present (simple) tense: Company X currently has no clear vision and mission. The company also does not make (is not making) good use of social media to sell its products.
Your research in the past tense: This research examined whether Company X does have a clear vision and mission […] The results showed that Company X … […] The researcher also analyzed when …
Your research in the present perfect tense: This research has examined whether Company X does have a clear vision and mission […] The results have shown that Company X … […] The researcher has also analyzed when …
The length of the dissertation conclusion should be between 200 and 400 words. Pay attention:
- Did you use a hypothesis instead of a research question? Then indicate whether the hypothesis holds true.
- Do not provide any new information in the conclusion. Any new information belongs earlier in the dissertation.
- Do not give examples in your dissertation conclusion, because you should have already worked out your conclusions (with examples) in the rest of your research. For example, if you conclude that the financial crisis has negatively affected the revenues of banks, then you should not also mention that Bank XYZ has had, ‘for example’, 20% less revenue in 2009 than in 2007.
* Use of the first person ‘I’ is often incorrect and prohibited in many studies but is accepted in some studies. Find out how your study treats the first person before you use it. In any case, we recommend that you don’t use the first person anywhere but in the Preface. Do you want to know more about this subject?
What does the discussion look like?
In the discussion, you write more interpretatively and colorfully about the results. Whereas you kept it concise in the dissertation conclusion, you write more in-depth about the subject in the discussion section.
Here you evaluate the research: you may discuss your expectations of possible causes of and consequences of the results, possible limitations and suggestions for follow-up research. Write the discussion, just as the dissertation conclusion, primarily in the present tense.
Interpretation of results
Start your discussion with the validity of your research design. Then discuss the results and indicate whether they meet your expectations. In this section, you will give explanations for meeting or not meeting these expectations.
These expectations can come from relevant literature, but they may also be based on your own common sense. In any case, describe how your results fit with the framework that you have drawn in the first chapter (introduction, motivation, theoretical framework, and research questions or hypotheses).
Also show how the findings provide new or different insights into what was already known. Elaborate on all possibilities: what exactly have you now shown?
Limitations of your research
Present the limitations of your research in a new paragraph within the discussion. Describe which observations you can make based on the research results. These remarks may be of an advisory nature.
If there are some side notes that can be made to the research or you were hindered by certain limitations, these issues can explain of the results you obtained. Name these, but also explain how these factors can be improved in future research.
Pay attention that you don’t run down your entire research project; you’re not supposed to provide a list of all your errors. These should have been carefully considered before you started your research.
Recommendations for further research
The discussion ends with a paragraph of suggestions for possible follow-up research. How can other researchers build upon your research? Do not write something along the lines of ‘there is still much research needed’.
You’re not supposed to give a list of what others should look into for you in order to complete your research, but rather give suggestions for a separate, follow-up study in response to your research.