Frequently Asked Questions:
Abstract – A key feature of a dissertation, the abstract is a thumbnail sketch of the entire paper, usually between 150-250 words. It not only summarizes the central question or questions explored in the dissertation and explains their significance, it contains all the components of the dissertation in condensed form. As an abstract may be the only text the publisher makes available for free viewing, it should function as a stand-alone text to sell prospective readers on the importance of the work, as well as presenting an overview of the methodology, results, and conclusions.
AMA Style – The AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors is the style guide of the American Medical Association. It is used widely, either in its entirety, or with modifications, in many scientific, medical, and public health journals. It adopts a minimalist style appropriate for scientific writing for an educated audience, such as dropping periods after abbreviations and including specific sections for medical terminology and Greek letters. It also provides guidance for editors, including setting standards for mechanical style and formatting, but allowing for variation when necessary.
AP Style – The Associated Press Stylebook on Briefing and Media Law (also called the AP Stylebook), is the standard style manual for journalists. Many types of media, including print, web, and broadcast media, use AP style because of its lean use of space, such as the use of numerals for numbers above nine and not using the serial (Oxford) comma. In addition to sections for writers in the field of sports and business, the AP stylebook also contains information on punctuation rules, media law and ethics, photo captions, and editing marks to assist writers and editors with the proofreading process.
APA Style – The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is a style guide used primarily for dissertations in the behavioral and social sciences. The 6th edition, the most current, recommends two spaces after a period for improved readability, and uses double spacing of text, Roman numeral page numbers, and five sequential levels of headings.
ASA Style – The ASA Style Guide, published by the American Sociological Association, assists researchers preparing sociology dissertations, and authors submitting manuscripts for publication in ASA journals. ASA style, similar to APA style, uses parenthetical referencing for in-text citations, according to the author-date format, and contains a section at the end of the paper for a list of references.
Bibliography – Also called the References list in APA and ASA style, and Works Cited in MLA style, the bibliography is an organized list of the authoritative sources cited in the text. A bibliography may include sources other than books, such as periodical, or Internet sources. Although the citation format may vary, the elements usually included in the bibliography are the author and/or editors, title, publisher/location, and date of publication. For periodicals, the entry usually includes the author, article title, journal title, volume number, issue number, page numbers, and date of publication. An annotated bibliography follows each citation with a brief descriptive paragraph discussing and evaluating the source cited.
Block Quote – A long quotation, usually of 40 words or more, which is set off from the text by indenting the block one additional half inch from each margin (beyond the regular margin settings for the rest of the body text). No quotation marks are used and the in-text citation, if parenthetical citation format is used, is located after the final punctuation mark. Depending on the style manual, a block quotation might be either single or double spaced.
Capstone – A capstone project is a final project often required for completion of master’s, and some undergraduate programs, in liberal arts, social services, public administration, and communications programs. Through completion of their capstone project, students have the opportunity to apply the research skills, theory, and other quantitative and qualitative methods they have learned over the course of their program of study. Like the graduate dissertation process, a capstone process usually requires that approval of a proposal, presenting the student’s hypotheses, literature review, and research methods, by a committee or adviser. Types of capstone projects vary, but they may range from case studies to surveys to program evaluations.
Chart – A type of figure presenting dissertation research data in graphic form.
Chicago Manual of Style – Also referred to by editors as Chicago or CMOS, The Chicago Manual of Style, published by the University of Chicago Press is used in academic publishing, particularly in history, social science, and law journals. Many universities require students to write dissertations according to the Chicago rules, or the Turabian style, which is based on the CMOS. Chicago style allows authors great flexibility, permitting a mix of citation styles, including in-text citation (either author-date as in ASA and APA, or by page number as in MLA), and footnotes or endnotes. The format of footnotes/endnotes can also vary, depending on whether the dissertation includes a separate bibliography. The 16th edition includes expanded sections on electronic publishing and editing.
Citation – A citation is a reference in the body of a text, such as a dissertation, to acknowledge the contribution of another work or authoritative source, at the place in the text where words or ideas from the source are used. In-text citations, which can take the form of parenthetical, author-date format citations, or footnotes, are often paired with a bibliographical list of references, also called “works cited,” to present all the relevant information about published or unpublished sources cited in the dissertation. Software can be used to automatically output citations according to specific style guides, but a professional editor should review references to ensure proper formatting.
Copy Editing – Copy Editing is a lighter form of editing than Line Editing, but a more detailed form than mere proofreading. In copy editing, the editor corrects for spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax, and proper use of capital letters and numerals. The editor will also correct text and citations according to the author’s preferred style manual.
Dissertation – A final paper written as a requirement for a doctoral degree, dissertations are the culmination of a lengthy research project, involving quantitative or qualitative methods, or a mixed-method approach. The paper is usually divided into particular sections, often including an introduction, a discussion of the study, a literature review, an overview of the methods, a presentation of the research data, analysis of the data, and conclusions. The dissertation proposal must first be approved, then the author conducts the research and writes the dissertation, then submits the final paper for approval. Since universities often require dissertations to comply with specific style guides and formatting rules, authors may engage a professional editor.
Endnote – A system of referencing source material in a dissertation in which a superscript numeral is placed following quoted or paraphrased material and a corresponding superscript numeral is placed in a separate Endnotes or Notes section at the end of the dissertation text. The reference at the end of the text contains a formatted bibliographic citation to the authority, the source of the words or idea quoted or paraphrased in the text. Depending on the style manual, references in the endnotes may be formatted differently than in the bibliography or “References” section. Works previously cited may be abbreviated in subsequent endnotes.
EndNote Software – EndNoteis a computer program produced by ThomsonReuters to assist authors with references and bibliographies when writing dissertations. Researchers can add references to an EndNote library manually, or by exporting or importing files from bibliographic databases. The software applies the specified citation format.
Figure – Visual presentations of information such as scatter plots, line graphs, bar graphs, pictorial graphs, pie graphs, charts, drawings, and photographs, which supplement the dissertation text. The title and caption go beneath the figure. When necessary, particularly for graphs, a legend should explain the meanings of symbols, abbreviations, and terminology used in the figure.
Footnote – A system of referencing source material in a dissertation in which a superscript numeral is placed following quoted or paraphrased material and a corresponding superscript numeral is placed at the bottom of the text of the page. The reference at the foot of the text contains a formatted bibliographic citation to the authority, the source of the words or idea quoted or paraphrased in the text. Depending on the style manual, references in the footnotes may be formatted differently than in the bibliography or “References” section. Works previously cited may be abbreviated in subsequent footnotes.
Graph – A type of figure used in quantitative analysis dissertations to convey efficiently relationships like comparison and distribution in visual form. Types of graphs include scatter plots, line graphs, bar graphs, pictorial graphs, and pie graphs. Dissertation authors can use Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet program to help generate graphs.
Header – The space between the bottom edge of the top margin and the top of the physical page in which the running head and the page number are located in a dissertation. Each header can be linked to the previous header if the author wishes all headers to show the same text. If a header on a particular page or in a particular section needs to be unique, section breaks can be inserted using word processing software to make changes to the header or margins in one page but not the next.
Heading – A system of using font style and formatting to subdivide the body text and label each section to indicate the outline of the dissertation. Different style manuals have different guidelines for headings. For example, the American Psychological Association 6th Edition sets out five specific heading levels, whereas the Chicago Manual of Style allows the author to use his or her own system as long as consistency is maintained. Universities may provide their own dissertation formatting guidelines, which establish guidelines for headings that vary from the standard style guides. Dissertation authors and editors can use built-in word processing headings software to format entries, mark them as specific headings styles and add them to a custom table of contents.
Line Editing – Line editing is a more detailed form of editing than copy editing and proofreading. Line editing includes the corrections to grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax, style and formatting that comprise copy editing, but the editor also actively works to improve the author’s writing by suggesting changes to the text to support better flow, readability, effectiveness, and scholarly tone. Sometimes authors may request specifically focused line editing, such as to remove instances of passive voice. Line editing can range from light to heavy editing, depending on the degree to which the editor must be involved in reworking sentences. To some extent, the editor may also suggest changes in the overall organization of the dissertation to improve the flow and structure of the argument.
Literature Review/Lit Review – Most dissertations require a section with the heading Literature Review or Review of the Literature. In this section, the author sets out and discusses significant contributions of other authors relevant to the research question under study. The author organizes the literature review in such a way so as to frame up the research question under discussion in the dissertation, underline its importance, and highlight relevant issues which will be examined in greater detail in later sections of the dissertation.
Methodology – The methodology used to carry out the dissertation research is usually set out and discussed in a section with the heading Methods or Methodology. This section often also forms a part of the dissertation proposal so that the methods can be approved before the research is carried out. In this section, the author discusses whether quantitative or qualitative methods, or a mixed-method approach was most appropriate to the study, explains why other methods were discounted, and sets out the data gathering techniques, as well as any relevant ethical considerations (anonymity, consent, data preservation, etc.). The methodology section will set the stage for the rest of the dissertation, as the author will have already set out the type and structure of the data that was gathered, which will be presented and analyzed in future sections.
MLA Style – TheMLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishingpublished by the Modern Language Association of America is the style guide primarily used for graduate dissertations and publication by students and authors in the humanities; particularly English and other modern languages, and literature. MLA recommends a single space following a period, and uses Arabic numeral pagination in the upper right-hand corner of the dissertation text. Section headings are also typically numbered sequentially with Arabic numerals, although MLA does not prescribe specific formatting for section headings as long as the formatting scheme remains consistent throughout. In-text citations use the parenthetical author-page number method and the Works Cited are listed in a separate section at the end of the dissertation.
Pagination – The system of rules setting out how dissertation content is divided into discrete pages (i.e. where page breaks fall), and determining the format and location of page numbers in dissertation text.
Paraphrasing – Paraphrasing involves presenting the information from an original source in a dissertation in the author’s own words, often for the purpose of elaborating, explaining, or clarifying the original information. Paraphrasing can be used to present information from an original source more briefly, or in a manner more relevant to the specific context of the dissertation than a direct quote. However, as with a direct quote, or any other use of another’s ideas in one’s own work, authors should mark instances of paraphrasing using the proper in-text citation method and include the original source in the references or works cited list.
Plagiarism – In academia, plagiarism is a type of academic dishonesty or fraud which can result in serious consequences up to and including expulsion. In journalism, plagiarism is an ethical (and possibly contractual) breach with employment consequences. Plagiarism has many definitions, depending on the institution, but generally refers to any use of another’s work or ideas in one’s own work without giving the appropriate credit, or citation, to the original source. Many institutions utilize plagiarism detection software to identify instances of borrowing or copying from existing works.
Primary Source – Also called an original source, a primary source is a type of evidence or material that was created at the time that is the subject of study and has not been altered. A primary source can be any type of object or document, including writings, paintings, or other art, that gives information about the time in which it was created. In journalism, a primary source can also be a person with first-hand knowledge of an event, or a document or other evidence created by that person.
Proposal – In the dissertation proposal, the student persuades the dissertation committee that the question that will form the focus of the study is worth exploring, and that the student is a scholar capable of dissertation-level research. The proposal usually contains the elements that will roughly form the first three chapters of the dissertation. It often includes: the Nature of the Study section, which sets out the problem to be explored and discusses its significance; the Literature Review section, which demonstrates a greater field of study relevant to the question at hand and shows the researcher’s ability to assemble relevant works on the topic; and the Methods section, which sets out the author’s hypotheses, plans for gathering data, likely participants, potential obstacles and means of overcoming them, as well as recommended means of analyzing data to draw conclusions.
Prospectus – The dissertation prospectus is different from the abstract, which is the brief summary outline of the completed dissertation. It is also different from the introduction to the dissertation, which hooks the reader, sets out the purpose of the dissertation, and provides a roadmap to what the dissertation will cover. Rather, the prospectus is a description of the author’s plan for the dissertation, which the author must complete and submit for approval before embarking on the dissertation process. The prospectus is a very preliminary document, completed shortly after the candidacy examination, and therefore is quite short, acting in a way as a draft proposal. The prospectus sets out a description of the proposed topic for the dissertation, explains the importance of the topic, provides a chapter outline, and includes a bibliography. The bibliography should be as complete as possible, and is usually nearly as long as the prospectus.
Qualitative Methodology – Methods used to gather narrative or anecdotal details to explain the how and why of particular behavior or phenomena are qualitative methods. In social science dissertations, qualitative methods are often paired with quantitative methods to flesh out, and give reasoning and contour to empirical data. The specific utility of qualitative data is limited to the cases studied, but the information gathered through qualitative methods can produce more generalized propositions to explain broader behavior. Free-response or open-ended survey questions, and interviews are examples of qualitative methods.
Quantitative Methodology – Any method of research that seeks to answer a fundamental dissertation question using processes of measurement is a quantitative methodology. Quantitative methodology is particularly appropriate to social sciences dissertations. Quantitative methods seek to express empirical results mathematically, using numerical data such as statistics, or percentages. Formulae and equations can be used to manipulate empirical results such as survey data to find meaning and draw conclusions in the process of analysis or interpretation. Tables and figures are often used to express quantitative data efficiently.
Running Head – The running head is an abbreviation of the dissertation title that appears in the header of every page of the dissertation within the top margin. It is typed in all caps, left justified, and should be no longer than 50 characters (including spaces and punctuation). On the first page, the words Running head and a colon precede the running head.
Scholarly Tone – This refers to a manner of writing suitable for academic papers that maintains an awareness of the likely audience. This means using clear, professional diction, avoiding contractions and colloquialisms, and including brief, explanatory phrases when necessary so that your writing is accessible by all of academia, and not limited to your editor or your dissertation adviser.
Secondary Source – Unlike primary sources, secondary sources are written after an event has occurred, or after the time under study. They analyze primary accounts to offer commentary, and perspectives, and support or disprove theories about the time period or event.
Source – A source is an embodiment of information. It can be a person (as in an interview), a document, a recording, or an object, such as a painting, that provides information an author may rely upon for research. In a dissertation, the author must cite all sources used in the dissertation, both in the text, according to the format specified in the appropriate style guide (often author-date parenthetical citation format) and in a separate section at the end of the dissertation.
Summary – A concluding paragraph or subsection at the end of each chapter or section in a dissertation in which the author recaps the main ideas of the chapter, relates these concepts back to the main question under study, discusses any relevance to any hypotheses proposed, and transitions to the next chapter.
Synthesis – The concept of how a particular idea explored in a dissertation fits into the larger related scheme or field of study. The Literature Review section of the dissertation usually explores the concept of synthesis by setting out the historical overview of the field, and the evolution of particular ideas, which have come together to give rise to the idea under study in the dissertation. In synthesis writing, author will draw out the main ideas of previous works or theorists, discuss and analyze them, and synthesize common themes or subtopics to connect these concepts to the topic at hand. This understanding of the greater body of knowledge in which the dissertation is situated, and the prior studies and theories on which it is based, provides a sense of what the dissertation will contribute to the wider field, and thus gives meaning and relevance to the question under study.
Table – A visual means of clearly and succinctly presenting data organized into labeled columns and rows. Tables should not be used to repeat data already presented in the text. Rather, tables should be used to supplement the text, to present a large amount of data efficiently so that it can be read and absorbed quickly. The title and description caption of the table are situated above the graphic. When necessary, general, specific, and probability notes are included below the table in that order.
Thesis Statement – This is a concise, persuasive sentence, normally located in the introduction of the dissertation, and often referred back to at various points throughout subsequent sections, that presents the main argument or claim of the dissertation to the reader. The rest of the paper – the body text – gathers and presents evidence to develop and support the thesis statement, and persuade the reader of its validity.
Title Case – A capitalization style in which most words are capitalized, used for titles of references when they appear in the text of a paper, titles of inventories or tests, titles of periodicals, the title of your own paper and named sections within it, and Level 1 & 2 headings. All words of four letters or more are capitalized. All principal words are capitalized (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns), as is the first word of the title/heading and the subtitle/heading.
Turabian – Named for the original author of the book A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Kate L. Turabian, this style is essentially the same as the Chicago Manual of Style. However, there are some minor differences, as Turabian style is designed specifically for student papers, such as theses and dissertations, whereas styles such as CMOS and APA style are used primarily for publication.
Vancouver Style – The Vancouver reference style, or the Vancouver system, also sometimes called the author-number system, is a citation style used for referencing in the physical sciences and medical field. PubMed and the AMA reference style are two examples of the Vancouver reference style. The most current version of the Vancouver style can be found in Citing Medicine: The NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers, the style guide of the US National Library of Medicine (NLM).
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