How to Write a Dissertation in Literature

Writing guide
Posted on August 13, 2019

The dissertation is an independent academic written work. If the question is about an undergraduate dissertation, it’s important to mention that the piece shouldn’t be 100% unique contribution to a particular niche. However, the project must be original in terms of being independent research, based on solid arguments, as well as an in-depth analysis of the subject.

You, as the dissertation author, are expected to demonstrate ample ability to do research, comprehend the collected materials, engage analytically and critically with literary criticism and primary texts. While the topic of your dissertation may vary greatly, the paper must have a clear focus with clearly definable boundaries. Therefore, you have to decide on a research question, collect relevant materials and plan a schedule.

The extensive nature of a dissertation in literature gives you a chance to examine a specific text and tell your target audience why exactly the piece is significant, and in what way it related to the key literary movements.

The Structure

Typically, the dissertation comprises the following segments:

  • Cover Page and Title Page. Make sure to provide each with the title of the project, the name of the degree, the number of examination, the name of your supervisor, the word count (excluding appendix, bibliography, and abstract).
  • Abstract. This part is a summary statement that includes not more than two hundred words. State the issue or the problem being debated, as well as the key questions that you’ve examined in your project together with the key findings.
  • Acknowledgments. Do you need to thank someone for the contribution to your research? This is what the part called “Acknowledgments” is for.
  • Table of Contents. Here you’re going to list all chapters of your paper together with their page numbers and titles.
  • Abbreviations. If required, make sure to list all the abbreviations you have used in references throughout your text.
  • The Main Body. This is the largest part of the project, where you collect and arrange evidence that will help you inform your target readers on your argument.
  • Bibliography/Works Cited. Make a list of all the links, books, and magazines you read and used in your academic work.

Choosing & Refining the Topic

In terms of structure, content, and form, the closest topics for your consideration might be found in essays or journal articles. For instance, students who are studying English literature should write on three Brontës sisters or English poetry in the World War I. Students who are enrolled for a Joint Degree in Classics of Japanese and Chinese Literature may choose to concentrate on either subject (or, as an alternative, a combination of both).

The world of literature has no limits, which means you’re not going to have troubles when it’s time to select the topic for your dissertation. As a rule, students approach dissertation supervisors who are always there to help you decide on the topic of your dissertation and advise you about the process of writing. At the same time, keep in mind that the dissertation is your project. Your supervisor is there to help, guide, and advise not to tell you exactly what to do!

To write a thought-provoking and memorable literature dissertation, ensure to consider the following topics we’ve prepared for you:

  1. George Eliot Work on the Religious Doubt in the Nineteenth Century;
  2. Elizabeth Barret about Communication and Love Through the Use of Her Poems;
  3. The Image of Death in World Literature;
  4. Why Is Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” So Loved by All Ages Equally?
  5. The Role of Witches within the Play Macbeth and Impact on the Play Itself;
  6. Visions of Nature: Wordsworth and Poetical Imagination of the 18th Century;
  7. Is Literature an Instrument of Propaganda?
  8. The Relationship Between Literature and Church in the Middle Ages;
  9. Ancestral Voices or the Basics of the Earliest English Literature;
  10. Homosexuality in World Literature from Its Beginnings to Nowadays;
  11. Impact of Digital Media on World English Literature;
  12. Russian Postmodernism: New Standpoints on Post-Soviet Culture;
  13. Where Does the Origin of Novels Begin?
  14. Ancient Indian Literature: Its Evolution Towards Contemporary Times;
  15. Poetical Imagination of William Wordsworth through an Analysis of His Perception of Nature;
  16. The Changing Meaning of the Victorian Family in the Gaskell’s Works;
  17. The World without William Shakespeare: How Would It Look Like?
  18. The Basics of Travel Writing in Modern Literature;
  19. Paradise Lost and the Fall from Grace: Redemption Poetry in the Seventeenth Century;
  20. Controversy Writing in the Works by Rodolfo Walsh;
  21. A History of Women’s Writing in Russia;
  22. The influence of Virginia Woolf’s Works on Modern Society;
  23. Children’s Literature Trends in the 21st Century.

If you think you need more ideas than these, make sure to check what they have to offer at your campus library in order to find out what your peers have worked on over the past years. Besides, you can also surf the web to discover a bunch of literature topics. Indeed, there are dozens of sites on the internet that offer fresh ideas. So make certain you do in-depth research first before you pick your dissertation title.

Write and Structure a Winning Dissertation Proposal

The term dissertation proposal refers to the final dissertation project proposal that should persuade the representatives of the committee board that you’ve conducted an interesting, complex, and valuable research. The proposal is shorter than the final dissertation; however, it’s equally important. Why? This is the point when the author is going to ponder over an important question and set up a detailed plan for collecting materials and writing the project. Even if the proposal is optional in your college, make sure to write it and talk about it with your project supervisor.

Write as You Go

The dissertation has a clear and concise structure, which means you won’t get lost as you write the project step by step.

The Introduction

Generally, the intro of the dissertation does the following:

  • Gives preliminary background info that lets your research harmonically communicate with context;
  • Specifies the focus of your project;
  • Highlights the value of your research;
  • Clarifies the objectives and aims of your specific research.

While you place the ‘background info’ first in the introductory section of the dissertation, it’s up to you to decide how exactly you’d like to structure the remaining points.

Feel free to combine these sections or add in new features, if needed. You may add in your research questions in the dissertation introduction to ensure your readers are not only familiar with your objectives and aims, but also have a certain framework for where you’re going to head your research.

As for the length of the introduction, there’s no particular rule about how long it should be since it depends on the length of the total project. However, in general, make sure to write the intro that takes 5-7% of the total amount of text.

Literature Review

In this chapter of the dissertation, you are expected to review your research process and the crucial acknowledgments that you have managed to come down to. In this section, make sure to:

  • Place your original work in the context of the literature that exists today;
  • Interpret the key issues that surround your topic;
  • Show the relationship of every work to others that are under consideration;
  • Specify the brand-new ways to interpret, and explain all gaps in prior research;
  • Resolve the existing conflicts among the previous studies that contradict each other;
  • Highlight the literature that contributes significantly to the understanding of your dissertation topic;
  • Show up the way to further research on the given topic.


Include this section into the project to discuss how you located the resources together with the methods of the results’ implementation. If you’re working on a qualitative dissertation, you will mention the research participants, questions, settings, data analysis, and data collection processes. If it’s a quantitative dissertation, the Methodology section will be focused on the research hypotheses and questions, collection and analysis of data, information about the population, and instrumentation.


The section of Findings is the most important part of the whole process of writing. The point is that in a dissertation, this section proves your intellectual capacity. At this stage, you will be required to restate the research questions, as well as discuss your results, explaining where they successfully led you to. To cut the long story, you are going to answer those questions. For instance, if you write a dissertation on ‘Charlotte Brontë’s Story of Success,’ you may state that through your research you have found out that publishers rejected the first novel of the author, while her next work ‘Jane Eyre’ was published in 1847, although it was not initially well-received.

The Conclusion

The concluding part of your dissertation will let you have a huge sigh of relief because once you work on it, you’re almost done with your project. It’s your task here to finish a well-organized and cohesive final chapter. If your conclusion is poorly structured, the reader might be left with the impression that the author lacked the required skills or that s/he lost interest in the process of writing.

To avoid this kind of pitfalls, make sure you know what is required from you and the issues that you have to include in your conclusion.
Generally, there are three key parts (at a minimum) that you have to put in the concluding section of your dissertation. Check them here:

  • Research objectives that are the summarization of your findings and the resulting conclusions. For instance, in a dissertation on “Women’s Role in Shakespeare Plays,” make sure to state briefly that women in power are treated with distrust by the author and that they have questionable morals. Mention Gertrude, who marries the murdering brother of her husband and Lady Macbeth who pushes her husband into murder.
  • Recommendations for further research (this part is strongly recommended). In the case of the topic mentioned above, ensure to state that women in Shakespeare’s works are judged by their sexuality even when they do love their husbands or fiancés. This is where the potential for further feminism-based research should be revealed. Mention that some feminists believe that the way the author treats women in his works demonstrates male insecurity about the sexuality of females.
  • Why your research is important (this part is important to the practitioners and researchers). The length of the concluding part of the dissertation depends on the length of the paper, but just like the intro, it takes somewhere near 5-7% of the total word count.
  • Bibliography. It is important to include all sources that you’ve used in your research and the process of writing, as well as use the citation style required by your academic institution.

Terms and Phrases to Avoid in a Dissertation

Writing in plain English is a must when it comes to a dissertation, which is why there are certain words you must avoid in your text:

  • Jokes and puns (They are a taboo in formal documents).
  • ‘Good,’ ‘bad,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘terrible’ (Never use your dissertation to make any sort of moral judgments!)
  • ‘Perfect’ (Perfect is nothing).
  • ‘Soon’ (When exactly? Today? In a hundred years?)
  • ‘I was surprised to get to know that…’ (Even if you really were, who cares?)
  • ‘This would seem to show’ (Your readers are waiting for the facts only!)
  • ‘Type of’ and ‘kind of’ (This sounds colloquial and too vague).
  • ‘Clearly’ and ‘obviously’ (Is it clear and obvious to everyone?)
  • ‘You are going to read about…’ (Never mention the second person in a formal document).
  • ‘I am going to describe…” (Never write the first person in a formal document).

Undoubtedly, writing a literature dissertation is challenging, but at the same time, it’s highly rewarding, and definitely deserving both effort and time.

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