Cooking and Serving Your Dissertation

This weeks post is written by guest author Rod Pitcher. Rod is a PhD student in Education at The Centre for Higher Education, Learning and Teaching at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. The focus of his study is the metaphors that researchers use when describing their research.

There have been many metaphors used to describe the writing of a dissertation. One of the most interesting is the metaphor of cooking a meal and serving it up to guests.

The purpose of the meal

To start preparing a meal one must consider its purpose. The requirements for the meal will depend on what it is to be and what it is intended to do. For instance, organising the materials for a snack to be eaten alone is a very different task from organising and making a banquet.

So to, how a dissertation is constructed depends on its purpose. If the dissertation is for one’s own pleasure then any format will do. However, if it is to be read by others, in a formal or informal manner, then some thought must be given to the layout and presentation. Having the dissertation examined for the PhD is a special case that requires special attention to everything related to it.

Gathering the materials

Again, the materials to be gathered for the meal will depend on its purpose. These will vary from simple materials that can be found in the cupboard to complicated and possibly expensive materials that might have to be obtained from a special provider such as a retailer of foreign or exotic materials.

So too, the sources of the dissertation material will depend on its purpose. For any kind of dissertation special care must be taken over the selection of the material. The information that forms the basis of the dissertation must be honestly obtained and must be rigorous and valid for the purpose. The sources must be impeccable, otherwise the dissertation will not stand on a solid basis.

The amount of background material included in the dissertation will depend on the knowledge already held by the readers. If it is to be read by people familiar with the topic then a lot of the background information will be unnecessary as it will already be known to them. For a PhD dissertation the background must be thorough and cover everything that can be found on the topic, so that the examiners can be properly informed of how the new material relates to what is already known.

Putting the materials together

The meal must be prepared in the proper order. Some parts will have to be done before others. For instance, a sauce might need to be prepared early so that it can be used as a dressing at a later stage of the preparation. Also, the individual dishes making up the meal will have to be prepared in the right order and with the right timing so that everything comes together at the end and finishes at the right times.

So too, the materials going into the dissertation must be processed in the right order. Some parts produced early in the writing might influence what is written later. Usually, this means that the literature review is one of the first part written so that you, as writer, understand the background and how the new work was developed from it and relates to it. Then comes the methodology and the results. The conclusion and introduction will probably be written last as they need to refer to the completed work.

The layout of the PhD dissertation is very important, so that it lays out the background, the work done, the method used and the results claimed in their correct order. The markers will not be pleased if the results come before the methodology as they won’t know how they were produced.

Serving up the meal

Once the meal is ready to be eaten it must be served up. For something simple like a light snack this need not be anything more than putting it on a plate placed on a table.

For a more elaborate meal the way it is displayed is more important. The meal must be laid out attractively so that it can be admired. The guests must be able to view the presentation and select which courses they would like served to them. The serving is as important as the meal and must be carried out in a suitable manner.

So to the dissertation must be presented to the reader or examiner in the right way to achieve the desired result. A simple dissertation might be put together simply as collection of stapled pages, but a PhD dissertation needs to be formatted properly if it is not to be rejected out of hand.

Universities usually require that PhD theses be bound with a suitable material. There are also rules about line spacing, page margins and printing that must be observed. It is important to format the dissertation properly to give the right first impression to the examiners. As with a meal, the first impressions are important for the enjoyment of the finished product.

A caveat

Be careful how you take the word ‘cooking’. It can mean being false and making up data or lying about the results in the dissertation. In other words, cheating. This, of course, should never happen. It’s not worth it – you are sure to be found out and disgraced, and your reputation will be ruined for ever. So don’t do it.

Once the dissertation is finished and accepted you can sit back and enjoy your just reward, and start calling yourself Doctor.

If you want to chat to Rod more, you can find him at:

Rod’s profile is at 
He’s on Google Scholar at

His Blog is at

Follow him on Twitter @Rod_Pitcher —

Follow him on Facebook at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s