The 7 Types of Dissertations Explained: Which One is Right for You?

Your dissertation is a pretty big deal and likely represents years of hard slog studying your subject of expertise.

But did you know there are 7 different types of dissertation?

The 7 types of dissertation explained

The purpose of this article is to demystify the various types of dissertations you might encounter or choose to undertake during your advanced studies. Armed with this knowledge, you can select the most appropriate methodology and framework for your research interests and academic requirements.

Each type of dissertation serves a different academic purpose and requires a unique approach and structure. In this article, we’ll take a look at these differences in detail, providing clear explanations and examples from a range of academic disciplines. By the end of this article, you should have a thorough understanding of the options available for your dissertation and be better prepared to select a path that aligns with your research goals and academic ambitions.

Remember, regardless of what type of dissertation you ultimately decide to pursue, best dissertation proofreading can make all the difference between a pass and a fail.

7 Types of Dissertation

Type of Dissertation Key Features Typical Disciplines Primary Focus
Empirical Data collection through experiments, surveys, observations Sciences, Social Sciences Gathering new data
Theoretical Focuses on existing theories and literature Philosophy, Literature, Sociology, Psychology Developing or expanding theories
Case Study In-depth study of a particular case Business, Education, Psychology, Social Sciences Detailed analysis of a specific instance
Comparative Compares and contrasts two or more entities Law, Education, Political Science, International Relations Identifying patterns or discrepancies
Project-Based Centers around a practical project Engineering, Computer Science, Applied Arts Application of theoretical knowledge to real-world problems
Narrative Uses narrative techniques to convey research Creative Arts, Literature, Education Personal or creative exploration of topics
Systematic Review Structured review of literature Healthcare, Psychology, Social Sciences Synthesizing existing research

Empirical Dissertations

So, let’s dive right in with empirical dissertations—arguably the most hands-on type of dissertation out there. If you’re studying a field like psychology, biology, or social sciences, you’re probably going to become very familiar with this approach.

What exactly is an empirical dissertation?

It’s all about gathering data. You’ll be conducting your own experiments, surveys, or observations, making this type extremely engaging (and a bit daunting). Essentially, you’re collecting new data from the world or from people, rather than relying on existing data from other studies.

The structure of an empirical dissertation is pretty straightforward but involves rigorous methodology. Typically, it will include an introduction to set up your SMART research question, a literature review to justify why this question needs answering, a methodology section that details how you’ve gone about your data collection, a results chapter presenting your findings, and a discussion that ties everything back to your research question and explores the implications.

This type of dissertation not only tests your ability to conduct research and analyze data but also challenges you to apply theoretical knowledge in practical scenarios. By the end of an empirical dissertation, you should not only have answers to your original questions but also a solid chunk of real-world experience under your belt.

Best suited to: Students who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.

Theoretical Dissertations

Now, shifting gears, let’s talk about theoretical dissertations. If the empirical dissertation is the hands-on, muddy boots kind of research, the theoretical dissertation is its more contemplative, indoor cousin. Perfect for those of you in fields like philosophy, literature, or certain branches of sociology and psychology, where concrete data might not be the main focus.

What’s the deal with theoretical dissertations? They revolve around developing, exploring, or expanding on existing theories. Instead of collecting new data, you invest your time and effort studying existing research and theoretical frameworks to build an argument or propose a new theory or perspective on an old one.

The structure of a theoretical dissertation generally includes a comprehensive introduction where you lay out your thesis or theory, followed by a detailed literature review that supports and provides the foundation for your thesis. After this, you’ll move into a discussion or analysis section, where you critically analyze your thesis in the light of existing theories and literature. The aim here is to offer a fresh or refined perspective that contributes to the existing body of knowledge.

This type of dissertation is a test of your analytical skills and your ability to synthesize complex ideas into a coherent argument. It’s less about creating new paths and more about mapping the ones already laid out in new ways.

Best suited to: Students who love theory and thrive on crafting arguments.

Case Study Dissertations

Next up, it’s case study dissertations. This type of dissertation is especially attractive if you’re someone who loves storytelling with a purpose or is drawn to in-depth analysis of specific events, individuals, or organizations. It’s a favorite in disciplines like business, education, psychology, and social sciences, where a single case can lead to the development of new theories and concepts.

A case study dissertation involves an intensive investigation of a particular individual, group, organization, or event. You’ll get to the nitty gritty of the specifics, examining various aspects of the case to understand its implications and applications. This method allows you to apply theoretical concepts in a real-world context, providing rich insights that aren’t always accessible through broader surveys or experiments.

The structure of a case study dissertation usually starts with an introduction to the chosen case, followed by a literature review that sets the theoretical framework. You then proceed to a detailed methodology section explaining how you collected and analyzed your data. The core of your dissertation will likely be the case analysis chapter, where you dissect the case in relation to your research question. Finally, you’ll conclude with a discussion of how the case impacts the wider field and what new understandings it brings to the fore.

Best suited to: Those who are meticulous and have a keen eye for detail, a case study dissertation allows you to explore the intricacies of a specific example while contributing to broader academic debates.

Comparative Dissertations

Next up is the comparative dissertation. This type is tailor-made for the analytically minded who love drawing connections and distinctions between different elements. It’s particularly prevalent in fields like law, education, political science, and international relations, where understanding differences and similarities across cases, laws, or educational methods can provide critical insights.

Essentially, a comparative dissertation involves systematically comparing and contrasting two or more entities. These could be policies, theories, populations, or even historical periods, depending on your study area. The goal is to identify patterns or discrepancies that reveal underlying principles or suggest new interpretations of data.

The structure of a dissertation of this nature typically includes a dissertation abstract followed by an introduction that defines the entities being compared and poses your research question. This is followed by a literature review that frames the theoretical bases for comparison. The methodology section should clearly outline the criteria and methods for comparison, ensuring transparency and replicability. The subsequent chapters will then detail the comparative analysis, discussing each entity individually before bringing them together for a comprehensive comparison. Finally, the conclusion synthesizes the findings, highlighting the significance of the differences and similarities discovered.

Best suited to: Those who can juggle multiple themes and variables without losing sight of the overarching question, a comparative dissertation challenges you to remain objective and balanced in your analysis.

Project-Based Dissertations

Project-based dissertations are more practical in nature. This type of dissertation is particularly appealing if you’re inclined towards applying your theoretical knowledge to create something tangible or solve a real-world problem. It’s a common choice in fields like engineering, computer science, and applied arts, where the end product can be a piece of software, an engineering prototype, or a design project.

What makes a project-based dissertation stand out? It centers around a project that you will plan, execute, and manage through the duration of your dissertation process. This could involve designing a new gadget, developing a software program, or creating a marketing plan for a startup. The focus is on applying the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired through your studies to produce a project that has practical and theoretical implications.

The structure of a project-based dissertation generally includes an introduction to the project, its objectives, and its relevance to your field. Following this, you’ll provide a literature review that supports the theories and methodologies you intend to use. The methodology section should detail your project plan, resources, and the processes you will follow. The main body of the dissertation will describe the project development and implementation phases in detail. Finally, the conclusion will evaluate the project’s success, its impact, and potential future developments or applications.

Best suited to: The innovative and the practical, a project-based dissertation allows you to showcase your ability to deliver a concrete outcome that demonstrates your professional capabilities.

Narrative Dissertations

If you’re drawn to writing and storytelling, a narrative dissertation might be right up your alley. This type is particularly popular in fields such as creative arts, literature, and education, where personal narratives or creative elements can be used to explore and communicate complex ideas.

What does a narrative dissertation involve? It’s about crafting a dissertation that primarily uses narrative techniques to convey research findings or explore scholarly questions. This could mean writing in a first-person perspective, incorporating fictional elements, or structuring the dissertation like a series of interconnected stories or essays.

The structure of a narrative dissertation often deviates from the traditional format. It begins with an introduction that sets the stage for the narrative journey. The literature review might be woven into the narrative itself, providing contextual background as the story unfolds. The methodology section explains how narrative methods will be used to explore the research question. The main body is where the narrative takes center stage, presenting research through personal reflections, storytelling, or hypothetical scenarios. The conclusion then ties all narrative threads together, reflecting on the insights gained and their broader implications.

Best suited to: those who think and express themselves best through stories, a narrative dissertation allows you to engage with your topic in a deeply personal and creative way.

Systematic Review Dissertations

Systematic review dissertations are perfect if you’re keen on synthesizing existing research to draw comprehensive conclusions about a specific topic. This type is particularly valuable in fields like healthcare, psychology, and social sciences, where summarizing and evaluating existing studies can provide powerful insights and inform practice and policy.

A systematic review dissertation involves a rigorous and structured approach to reviewing literature. You’ll gather all relevant data from previously published studies to answer a specific research question. The focus is on transparency and reproducibility, employing predefined methods to minimize bias and provide reliable results.

The structure of a systematic review dissertation typically begins with an introduction that outlines the research question and its significance. This is followed by a methodologically detailed section that explains the criteria for selecting studies, the search strategy used, and the methods for data extraction and synthesis. The results section then presents a detailed analysis of the studies included in the review, often using quantitative methods like meta-analysis. The discussion interprets these findings, considering their implications for the field and any limitations. The conclusion suggests areas for further research and summarizes the contributions made by the review.

Best suited to: Those with a keen eye for detail and a systematic approach to research, a systematic review dissertation can significantly impact by clarifying and summarizing existing knowledge.

Methodological Considerations

Choosing the right type of dissertation is an important decision in your academic journey, and several factors should guide your selection. This section aims to help you navigate these choices, ensuring that the methodology and framework you choose align perfectly with your research goals, available resources, and time constraints.

First, consider your discipline’s requirements and norms. Different fields favor different types of dissertations, so understanding what is expected and respected in your area of study is crucial. Next, think about your own strengths and interests. Choose a dissertation type that not only meets academic criteria but also excites you and plays to your strengths, whether they lie in empirical research, theoretical exploration, practical application, or creative expression.

Resource availability is another critical factor. Some types of dissertations, like empirical and project-based, may require access to specific equipment, software, or locations, which can be a deciding factor. Time constraints are also essential to consider; some dissertations, particularly those involving extensive data collection and analysis, may require more time than others.

Finally, discuss your ideas with your advisor or mentor. They can provide valuable insights and feedback that can help you refine your choice and ensure that you are prepared to tackle the challenges ahead. With the right preparation and understanding of what each type of dissertation entails, you can make an informed decision that sets the stage for a successful and rewarding research endeavor.

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