Dissertation or research papier is an exercise whose name sounds in the minds of many students. It is a major step in a student's higher education programme, in order to successfully complete a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree and thus obtain a diploma. It is also an opportunity for the student to showcase his or her understanding of the teaching received.

Dissertation or paper research is often a year-long process, so we encourage you to get organised and write it in a timely manner.

Whether you are writing a thesis, a doctorate, a paper research or a dissertation, here are the essential steps for your research work.




How to write a thesis paper step by step?

Step 1: Define a research topic that motivates you

All students who wish to write an academic thesis go through this initial stage, the search for a thesis topic

In some universities, topics are offered to you. When choosing, favour the subject that inspires you the most and that is most relevant to your professional ambitions

A tip: remember to contact the professor in charge of dissertations early on to discuss your chosen topic. He or she may be able to provide you with advice and research leads. 

In other cases, here is a list of criteria to consider to help you find your topic:

  • Accessible: Choose the topic that you think is the most accessible, the least complex in terms of your abilities/knowledge/desires
  • Achievable: Select a topic that is easier to access documentation and interviewees
  • Relevant: To highlight the courses you are taking and/or your professional ambitions
  • Acceptable: Validate the essay topic by your institution
  • Inspiring: Choosing a topic that inspires you will be one of the keys to your success and motivation
dissertation methodology outline writing

Step 2: Choose an available and supportive supervisor

In the Master's programme, once you have chosen your subject, you are responsible for selecting a thesis supervisor.

The main functions of the supervisor are to help you, guide you and advise you on the relevance of the subject. He or she will assess with you the feasibility of your topic, suggest other avenues and help you to define the subject.

To choose your team member for this academic project, you should take into account his or her availability to supervise you by checking whether he or she does not already have many other students to supervise. You should also be interested in their speciality and make sure that it is close enough to the field of your subject.

Finally, choose a supervisor with whom you have a good rapport. Trust your instincts. You will share your questions, your progress in this project and sometimes your moments of doubt. Your advisor is a real support in this research work.

Keep in mind that your advisor is there to guide you and not to do the work for you, so it is up to you to prepare the questions you want to ask.

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Step 3: Formulate your problem and the limits of your subject

In order to write a good or even excellent dissertation, the choice of the problematic plays an essential role. The problematic is the central question that your dissertation answers. Thus, it structures the dissertation and constitutes the guiding thread. It is the question that brings out the issues of the subject. The problematic is the result of your thinking, it shows how you will deal with the subject.

Having said that, we strongly advise you to do some preliminary research to get an overview of the subject and to analyse the documents you have read in order to build up a personal reflection. In this way, you will identify the most important and relevant issues for your field of study. From all this reflection, your big question naturally follows: the problematic.

To make sure that you have defined the subject from all angles, the 5 W's and H Questions is effective. It is also called the mind map method. By answering the questions how, what, who, how much, where, when and why, you will be able to develop a large number of ideas and then define the chosen treatment.

In concrete terms, this is how to go about it and what the above questions answer:

  • How? List the themes and sub-themes of your topic
  • What? Define the fields concerned by the topic: physics, economics, sociology etc.
  • Who? Explain the type of population you are considering in your essay
  • How many? Determine the quantitative and qualitative indicators to be taken into account to support your essay
  • Where? Locate your topic in a geographical area
  • When? Delineate your topic in time
  • Why? Determine the relevant causes to be mentioned


Image of "The 5W Questions", Knowledge Compass, consulted on 31/08/2022.

The 5W Questions, mind map method

Step 4: Construct a detailed plan

The construction of the plan is based on a rigorous logic. It is directly linked to your problematic. It is advisable to contact your dissertation supervisor once the plan has been drawn up so that he or she can validate it or advise you on any corrections to be made. 

Your plan gradually answers the main question that is your problematic. Also, the sequence between paragraphs is natural. 

How should your dissertation plan be structured?

You have several methods, it is up to you to choose the one that makes sense in relation to your subject: 

  • Start with a simple idea and work towards its complexity;
  • Expressing a general topic and continuing to an example;
  • Develop the "yes" in response to the problem, then the "no" and finally a mix of the two.

Two tips: a good plan is a balanced plan. Each of your titles answers the problem and provides information

If the headings are correctly identified in Google doc or Word as "heading 2", "heading 3"... You can easily visualise your plan and make corrections if necessary.

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Step 5: Search for relevant information

During this stage, you wear the hat of an investigator. This work requires you to consult many types of documents and to conduct interviews. Your task is to find relevant and reliable information, in particular by checking the sources.

To avoid falling into infobesity (too much information), do precise research and keep only the information relevant to your problem.

If you find interesting information but it does not answer your question, you can always mention it in your annexes.

Throughout your documentary research, it is advisable to analyse and classify the information and record the sources carefully. This research phase is important because the quality of your research work depends to a large extent on the relevance of the data collected as well as on a careful analysis.

To avoid losing the references you use when searching for information, remember to write them down as you go along. This also makes it easier to write your bibliography.


Step 6: Write and structure your dissertation

The structure of the plan may vary depending on your institution. But as an example and to make it clearer, here is a typical structure.

The cover or title page

The first page of your academic report is also the reader's first impression of your work. It typically includes: 

  • The name of your academic institution,
  • The city of your university,
  • Your academic year,
  • Your major in your academic program,
  • The title of the research work,
  • Your first and last name,
  • The name and surname of your thesis director,
  • The first and last names of the jury members,
  • The name and logo of the company for which you carried out this study (if alternating).
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Thank you page

This is the page where you thank the people who contributed to the realisation of your work (your thesis director, your teachers and your professional contacts for example).

Table of contents

Also called the "summary" or "detailed plan":

  • Titles of the parts of your research paper,
  • Titles of the sub-parts,
  • Numbers of the corresponding pages,
  • Links to these pages (if digital version).


Abbreviations, scientific or specific words sometimes need an explanation. This page aims to list and define them in order to understand the terms of your thesis. This page is not mandatory.


The introduction of a thesis is dedicated to the presentation of your subject, your problematic and the way in which you will answer it. It is an opportunity to arouse the reader's interest.


Body of the research paper

Research papers are generally organised in 3 or 4 parts. Paragraphs are balanced. A line break is considered whenever there is a change of idea.


It answers the problematic by making a mini summary of each part developed and opens the reflection towards a widening on other research tracks. 

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The bibliography

Bibliographic sources follow citation standards and vary depending on the nature of the source (book, site or article). Quotations, images, graphics... all sources need to be mentioned to credit your thoughts and invite the reader to learn more about your subject. It is essential to properly reference your sources to avoid being accused of plagiarism. Plagiarism is quickly spotted by dissertation editors thanks to the use of anti-plagiarism software, which detects textual similarities, such as Compilatio. It is advisable to indicate in your dissertation that you have submitted your dissertation text to plagiarism software, such as Compilatio Studium for students, to gain credibility. Your academic institution may only accept one standard of citation. Your dissertation advisor can advise you on this. 


If you have a lot of appendices, you may want to write a summary before listing them. Appendices contain details of qualitative and quantitative questionnaires conducted and additional information related to your topic.

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Step 7: Check and adjust your brief

Once your dissertation is completely written with the appendices and bibliographic sources correctly referenced, we recommend that you proofread it. It is even better if you do it as you go along to avoid inconsistencies, spelling, grammar and syntax mistakes. 

In addition, the careful layout makes it easier for your proofreader to read. In concrete terms, you pay attention to the uniformity of the font, to the bolding of key words, to the beauty of your precious research work... Don't hesitate to use color and images to make your dissertation more enjoyable. 

Your thesis advisor also has a role to play in proofreading your academic work.

Step 8: Prepare oral presentation

Once this work is done, one might want to take a breathe. However, there is still one last step to take, which is just as important as writing the thesis: oral presentation.

This oral presentation is the moment when you can defend your work done during the year. The jury is generally made of your thesis director and one or more guests from the academic world (lecturers for example).

This oral presentation generally lasts about thirty minutes and it is not necessary to go into details of your thesis, since the members of the jury will have read it beforehand. Keep in mind that the objective is to explain the choice of the subject, the problematic and the way you proceeded to answer it. Finally, you will discuss the conclusions you have reached.

It may be interesting to discuss the difficulties you encountered during your work and how you overcame them. You need to step back and think critically.

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Finally, you will answer the questions asked by the members of the jury. They will also give you their criticism of your thesis.

You will have to prepare a visual presentation (Power Point or Google Slide type).

To make this presentation easy, use : 

  • Key words (not sentences),
  • Images (with their references),
  • Graphs (with their references),
  • Figures (with their references),
  • Light animations between the slides.

Then, the jury will ask you some questions. You can try to anticipate them so that you will be more comfortable answering them.

To summarise, writing a thesis is an important step in validating your knowledge. It takes time to build, so it is better to be organised. But it is worth it because the research work allows you to validate your university course. Put your heart into your research and writing, be authentic and appreciate the value of the work you do.

Happy dissertation, thesis or doctoral writing. It's up to you.


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