Your Doctoral Dissertation Needs to Be Written in an Appropriate Manner

PhD dissertations have stricter requirements in terms of style and language than any other papers you completed during your university studies. In order to defend your thesis successfully, write it in a manner that is considered appropriate in the scientific world.

General Recommendations

  • Write in third person. Never use “I,” “we,” or “you” in your dissertation. If you need to refer to yourself, write “the author.”
  • Never mention your name or the names of people who helped you with your research in the main body of your thesis. If you want to give credit to your colleagues, do it in the Acknowledgments section.
  • Avoid passive voice. Active constructions will make you sound stronger and more confident.
  • Keep your language simple and clear. Do not complicate the text just for the sake of complication – like politicians who say “at this point in time” instead of “now.” Meanwhile, do not sacrifice accuracy for brevity. You may need long sentences and complicated language with many scientific terms to convey a complicated idea.
  • Define any special terms the first time you use them in your text. Or, provide a reference to their definitions in an outside source.

Things to Avoid

  • Adverbs. In most cases, you do not need them. If the meaning of your sentence seems unclear, fix it by using stronger and more precise words. Adding something like “actually” or “really” would not make your idea clearer; it would just make your sentence wordy and demonstrate your inability to formulate precise ideas.
  • Jokes or puns. There is no place for them in a formal document, which your thesis is.
  • Qualitative judgments: “nice,” “good,” “bad,” “terrible,” “stupid,” “perfect,” or “ideal”; and also “true” and “pure” used to convey “good.” Stick to the facts. Do not make any moral judgments.
  • Any personal comments on previous researchers, e. g. “a famous scholar.” It only matters what was said or done, not who said or did it. Such statements may create prejudices.
  • Unspecific time estimates: “today” or “in modern times.” State a more specific period, such as “in this decade.” The same goes for “soon.” Explain whether you mean the next day or next few years.
  • Unspecific quantity estimates: “some,” “many,” or “a number of.” Exact numbers work better.
  • Starting sentences with “this” or “that.” Do not leave your reader guessing what you mean by “this.” Define whether it is the whole previous sentence, the subject of the previous sentence, the whole former paragraph, etc.
  • Ungrounded judgments: “obviously” or “clearly.” Are you sure that what you say is obvious and clear to everyone?
  • Imperatives: “must,” “should,” or “always.” You cannot be sure that anything is always true. Scholars avoid making such statements.
  • Colloquial phrases: “a lot of,” “kind/type of,” “just about,” “something like,” “in light of,” or “due to.” Everyday language like this can ruin the impression of a serious scientific research that your dissertation should reflect. Remove this wording or replace it with more formal synonyms, such as “approximately” and “because of.”
  • Be careful with words such as “all,” “every,” “any,” “most,” or “few.” Would you be able to defend the claim you make? If you write that “most computer systems contain X,” you should provide statistics according to reputable sources that more than 50% of the computers produced and sold all over the world contain it.
  • Awkward wording: “along with” (simply write “with”) or “the fact that” (rephrase).
  • “Seems” or “seemingly.” Write about what things are, not about what they seem to be.
  • Using “different” instead of “various.” You may only use “different from.”
  • “Simple.” This word has a negative connotation. Only use it as part of a scientific term, e.g. “a simple set.”
  • “Probably.” Do you know the statistical probability? If yes, state its exact value.
  • Don’t use “proof” or “proven,” unless a mathematician would agree that it is truly proven.
  • “Show” in the sense of “prove.”