Your main contribution to knowledge likely exists within your empirical work (though in a few select cases it might be drawn from the literature review). Implicit in this section is the notion that you are required to make an original contribution to research, and you are, in fact, telling the reader what makes your research study unique. In order to achieve this, you need to explicitly tell the reader what makes your research special.
There are many ways to do this, but perhaps the most common is to identify what other researchers have done and how your work builds upon theirs. It may also be helpful to specify the gap in the research (which you would have identified either in your dissertation introduction or literature review) and how your research has contributed to ‘filling the gap.’
Another obvious way that you can demonstrate that you have made a contribution to knowledge is to highlight the publications that you have contributed to the field (if any). So, for example, if you have published a chapter of your dissertation in a journal or you have given a conference presentation and have conference proceedings, you could highlight these as examples of how you are making this contribution.
In summing up this section, remember that a dissertation conclusion is your last opportunity to tell the reader what you want them to remember. The chapter needs to be comprehensive and must include multiple sub-sections.
Ensure that you refresh the reader’s memory about your research objectives, tell the reader how you have met your research objectives, provide clear recommendations for future researchers and demonstrate that you have made a contribution to knowledge. If there is time and/or space, you might want to consider a limitations or self-reflection section.
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!
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