The doctoral dissertation is the crowning achievement of your PhD program and an accomplishment of which you can be very proud. It’s also a significant undertaking. For any large project like this, understanding the steps and sequence can help reduce some of the anxiety you may be feeling about writing a dissertation.

Curtis Brant, PhD, Dean of Research & Scholarship at Capella University, provides details of the primary steps required to complete a dissertation. 

Generally, a dissertation will have five chapters:

  1. An outline of the full background of your study
  2. A comprehensive literature review supporting your research
  3. A discussion of your choice of research design, data collection and analysis, and details of the research steps
  4. The actual data analyses and results, and
  5. The final evaluation and interpretation of your results.

As you progress through your program, each of the steps described below is designed to help you make concrete progress on your dissertation in smaller, manageable chunks. 

Step 1: Project Ideation. In your coursework, you will learn a great deal about the theories and practices central to your field of study. You will gain broad exposure to the field to help you to start thinking about a topic of inquiry for your project. You will also learn more about research ethics and methodologies so that in the next phase you will be ready to formally develop your project proposal. 

Step 2: Project Development. Next, you will narrow down your choice of topics and begin to build the detailed format of your project. In this step, you will develop a detailed research plan that outlines the theoretical basis for your research, the questions you hope to answer, a research methodology, and proposed data analyses. In creating such a detailed research plan, you will also be developing much of the content for the first three chapters of your dissertation. You will submit your plan for approval to faculty to help prepare you for the next phase of completing your actual research. 

Step 3: Project Implementation. This step begins with submitting your study for approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB will review your project to ensure it meets the standards for ethical research. Once you get IRB approval, you can start to gather the data that you will analyze in the next step. During this step, you will also write and synthesize much of the content for the remaining chapters of your dissertation.

Step 4: Project Conclusion. In this step you will complete your data collection and analyze the results. You will also finish writing of the final two chapters of your dissertation in which you summarize your findings and connect your findings back to the questions and theories you discussed in earlier chapters. Prior to submitting your final dissertation for approval by your faculty review and edit it to ensure synthesis of all the content.

Step 5: University Approvals. In the final step of completing your dissertation, you will submit your project for final format editing and approval from your faculty. 

Whatever step you’re on, one of the key factors to success is time management. Every step requires considerable work. Breaking down each step (as Capella does) is a good approach, as is diligently scheduling time every week to continue working. It may feel overwhelming to contemplate the entire process at once, but bundling it into smaller goals helps it become less daunting.

What’s more, as you progress through the steps of your project, your hard work will begin to pay off as you see the prospect of earning your PhD become a reality. Knowing that you’re contributing knowledge to your chosen field can be rewarding. It’s hard work but it’s followed by an immense feeling of satisfaction when you reach the end.

Capella University offers PhD and professional doctoral degree programs ranging from business to education and health to technology. Learn more about our online PhD programs.