Nursing Dissertation Writing Guide & Tips

Writing a nursing dissertation or thesis is a task that requires planning and comprehensive research. Nonetheless, it’s a crucial milestone in your educational journey—a final testament to your commitment and dedication to the nursing profession. If you find yourself grappling with the question of how to write a nursing dissertation or thesis, you’re in good company. Writing a thesis is an intellectual challenge that brings even the most seasoned scholars to their knees.

As a nursing school student, your dissertation or thesis is not just another academic assignment. It’s a powerful tool that allows you to delve deeper into your field, bringing to light new ideas, perspectives, or solutions. It’s a unique opportunity to leave a lasting imprint on the nursing landscape by contributing novel, valuable knowledge.

This guide will explore the process of writing an engaging nursing dissertation.

How Long is a Dissertation?

So, you’ve found yourself standing at the precipice of your academic journey, wondering, “just how long is a dissertation?” This is a common question among students ready to begin their dissertation or thesis journey, and for a good reason. The length of a dissertation is a clear indicator of its comprehensive nature.

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Generally speaking, a Master’s dissertation tends to fall within the 10,000 to 20,000 words bracket. This count includes everything from the introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion to the conclusion but excludes appendices, the bibliography, and other ancillary materials. However, these figures are not set in stone and might fluctuate depending on your university’s specifications, the scope of your research, and your subject matter.

When we ascend to the level of a Ph.D. thesis, the word count grows more formidable. Here, the word count starts at around 50,000 and can easily extend to 80,000 or more. These are gargantuan documents, often book-length, underscoring the depth and breadth of the research undertaken.

However, it’s crucial not to get too caught up in these numbers. The quality of your work is far more critical than the quantity. It’s better to have a concise, well-written dissertation than a rambling, unfocused one that just meets a high word count. The length of your dissertation should ultimately be determined by the demands of your research and not by an arbitrary word count.

General Dissertation Structure

A successful dissertation needs a well-planned outline. The structure of a dissertation provides a framework that not only organizes your thoughts and findings but also guides your readers through the journey of your research. Without this structure, your audience would be lost in a sea of words, data, and ideas.

When pondering on how to write a nursing dissertation or thesis topic, it’s critical to understand the general structure that most dissertations follow. Each of these sections has a distinct role and purpose, all working together to form a coherent, persuasive whole.

An Introduction and/or Research Proposal

Every great story begins with an intriguing start, and your nursing dissertation is no different. The introduction sets the stage for everything that follows. It introduces the research problem or questions you’re investigating, explains why it’s important, and outlines how you plan to address it.

The dissertation introduction section should pique your reader’s interest and give them a clear idea of what to expect from your study. It should provide enough background information to help your readers understand the context and significance of your research.

In some cases, you might need to write a research proposal. This proposal is more detailed than the introduction. It outlines your research objectives, the significance of your study, and the methods you intend to use to achieve these objectives. It also gives a glimpse of the expected outcomes of your research.

A Literature Review and Methodology

A literature review serves a crucial role in grounding your research within the existing body of knowledge. It involves an in-depth examination of relevant literature on your dissertation topic, identifying trends, themes, and gaps that your research aims to fill.

A robust literature review demonstrates your familiarity with your topic, establishes your study within the existing research landscape, and justifies the necessity of your research.

Following the literature review, we delve into the dissertation methodology. This section is where you describe how you plan to conduct your research. It’s a detailed description of your research design, data collection methods, sample selection, and data analysis techniques. Your methodology should be clear and detailed enough that another researcher could replicate your study based on this information.

The Results and Discussion

The results section is where you present the raw data you collected during your research. You lay out your findings in a clear, organized manner, typically using visual aids like graphs, tables, or charts.

Next comes the dissertation discussion section, arguably the heart of your dissertation. Here, you interpret and analyze your findings, tying them back to your research question. You identify patterns, discuss whether the results met your expectations, explain any anomalies, and compare your findings with previous research.

These sections; introduction, preface, literature review, proposal, methodology, results, and discussion, make up the skeleton of your dissertation. Having a clear understanding of what each section entails and how they fit together can guide you in your journey of how to write a nursing dissertation or thesis.

Dissertation Plan: What You Need to Include

A dissertation plan is your road map to a successful nursing dissertation or thesis. Think of it as a GPS system that helps you navigate through the various stages of your dissertation. It’s a detailed blueprint that structures your work, guides your writing, and ensures a logical flow to your arguments.

Your dissertation outline should be comprehensive. It should lay out what you intend to include in each chapter and give a brief overview of each section. It is essentially the table of contents, fleshed out into a plan. Here’s a rundown of the essential elements your dissertation plan should contain:

Title Page

Every dissertation begins with a title page. It’s the first thing your readers (and examiners) see. The title page usually includes your research title, your name, your supervisor’s name, your university’s name, and its logo.


In the acknowledgment section, you get the chance to express gratitude towards all those who have supported you throughout your research journey. This could include your supervisor, colleagues, family, or even funding bodies.


An abstract is a mini version of your dissertation. It’s a concise summary that gives your readers a snapshot of your research, including the problem you investigated, the methods you used, your main findings, and your conclusion.

Table of Contents

A table of contents provides an organized list of all the chapters, sections, and sub-sections in your dissertation. It also includes their respective page numbers, allowing readers to navigate your document with ease.

List of Figures and Tables

The list of figures and tables is essentially an index that helps readers locate your visuals throughout your document. Each entry indicates the figure or table number, its title, and the page on which it can be found.

List of Abbreviations

If you’ve used any abbreviations in your study, compile them into a list, along with their full forms. This glossary of abbreviations will help your readers understand your text better.


A glossary is a list of specific terms, jargon, or technical language used in your study, along with their definitions. It ensures that your readers fully understand the language and concepts you use.


Your introduction sets the stage for your research. It presents your research problem, outlines your research question, and explains the significance of your study.

Literature Review

Your literature review critically analyses the existing literature related to your research topic. It helps position your research within the broader academic discourse and identifies gaps your research aims to fill.


The methodology section outlines your research design and methods. It explains how you conducted your research, how you collected and analyzed your data, and why you chose these methods.


In the results section, you present your findings. You organize your data in a clear and understandable format, often using visuals such as graphs or tables.


The discussion section is where you interpret your results. You relate your findings back to your research question and compare them to the findings of previous studies.


Your conclusion wraps up your research. It summarizes your key findings, discusses the implications of your study, and suggests areas for future research.


Your bibliography lists all the sources you’ve cited in your dissertation. It gives credit to the authors whose works you’ve used and allows your readers to trace your sources.


The appendices section includes any additional materials that didn’t fit into the main body of your dissertation. This could include survey questions, interview transcripts, or raw data tables.

Planning ahead with a detailed dissertation plan can make the process of writing a nursing dissertation or thesis far less overwhelming. It’s the structure that holds your ideas together and guides you along the path to a successful dissertation.

How to Write a Nursing Dissertation in 8 Steps

Writing a nursing dissertation or thesis doesn’t have to be an insurmountable challenge. With proper planning, a clear vision, and a step-by-step approach, you can smoothly navigate through the process. Here are the steps to crafting a well-structured, insightful, and impactful nursing dissertation or thesis.

Step 1: Understand Exactly What a Dissertation is

First things first: you need to comprehend what a dissertation entails. Essentially, a dissertation is a formal, comprehensive piece of writing based on original research. It’s not just a long essay or a mere review of existing literature. It requires you to generate a unique research question, design a study, collect and analyze data, and draw your own conclusions.

A nursing dissertation provides an opportunity to delve deep into a topic that interests you within your field of study. It allows you to make a significant contribution to the body of knowledge in nursing. Understanding this concept can help you grasp the importance and seriousness of this academic exercise and the role it plays in your academic and professional growth. Remember, this isn’t just an assignment—it’s a rigorous scholarly exploration that will test and enhance your research, critical thinking, and writing skills.

Step 2: Find a Unique, Valuable Research Topic

Choose a dissertation topic that is both of interest to you and valuable to the field of nursing. Your topic should be feasible—something that can be researched within the time frame and resources available to you. It should also be relevant, filling a gap in current knowledge or offering a fresh perspective on an existing issue in nursing.

Finding the right topic involves reading extensively in your area of interest, noting trends and gaps in the literature, and discussing potential topics with your tutors, supervisors, or peers.

Step 3: Write a Convincing Research Proposal

Once you have a potential topic, the next step is to craft a research proposal. This is a brief document that outlines your proposed research. It should present your research question, justify its significance, discuss the methodology you intend to use, and highlight potential implications of your study.

The purpose of a research proposal is not only to plan your study but also to convince others—like your dissertation committee—that your research is worthwhile and you have a clear plan to execute it.

Step 4: Craft a Strong Introduction Chapter

Your introduction is the first chapter of your dissertation, and it sets the stage for your research. It should grab your reader’s attention, introduce your topic, present your research question, and explain why your study is significant. It’s the section where you provide the background and context for your research.

Step 5: Undertake an In-depth Literature Review

A comprehensive literature review is the backbone of your nursing dissertation. It allows you to demonstrate your understanding of your research topic and the broader nursing context. It involves a systematic and critical examination of the existing literature related to your topic, identifying trends, debates, and gaps.

A good literature review not only summarizes previous studies but also analyzes and critiques them, paving the way for your research question and methodology.

Step 6: Carry Out Your Own Research

This is where you roll up your sleeves and get down to the nitty-gritty of your study. Based on the methodology you outlined in your proposal, you now collect and analyze your data. Whether you’re conducting experiments, surveys, interviews, or analyzing records, ensure you adhere to ethical guidelines and that your methods are robust and reproducible.

Step 7: Present Your Findings

After collecting and analyzing your data, you’re ready to present your results. This is where you report what you found, using visuals such as charts, graphs, or tables where necessary. The presentation of your findings should be clear, precise, and unbiased. Remember, at this stage, you are merely reporting what you found, not interpreting it—that comes next.

Step 8: Conclude and Discuss the Implications

Your journey of how to write a nursing dissertation or thesis now reaches its climax – drawing a conclusion and discussing the implications of your research. This step isn’t just about summarizing your findings; it’s about synthesizing your thoughts and giving a meaningful ending to your scholarly narrative. It’s a window into your intellectual thought process and a showcase of your analytical prowess.

Interpreting Your Findings

Interpreting your findings involves making sense of the data you have collected. You relate these findings back to your research question, tying the threads of your investigation into a comprehensible whole. Have you answered your research question? If so, how does the data support your conclusion? If not, what might be the reasons?

The trick is to discuss your findings in a balanced way, considering alternative explanations and acknowledging any unexpected results. Remember, it’s the quality of your interpretation and not the quantity of data that makes your research valuable.

Linking to the Literature Review

Next, you want to connect your findings to your literature review. How do your results align or conflict with the existing literature? Can they explain any contradictions or controversies noted in your literature review? Drawing these connections enhances the credibility of your research and situates your findings within the broader academic discourse.

Highlighting Contributions to Knowledge

One of the primary goals of a dissertation or thesis is to contribute to the body of knowledge in your field. Thus, it’s crucial to highlight what new insights your research has brought forth. It could be a fresh perspective on a familiar issue, novel empirical findings, or a unique theoretical framework. In essence, you’re stating the value proposition of your research.

Discussing Limitations

No study is perfect, and acknowledging the limitations of your research demonstrates intellectual honesty and integrity. Maybe your sample size was small, your data had some anomalies, or you had to make certain assumptions. Discussing these limitations not only adds credibility to your research but also sets the stage for future studies.

Suggesting Areas for Future Research

Finally, point out the potential implications of your study and suggest areas for future research. This could be in the form of questions that remain unanswered, issues that arose during your study, or extending the research to different contexts or populations. This section underscores the dynamic nature of academic knowledge – each study is a stepping stone for future research.

Nursing Dissertation Examples

To better understand the complexity and structure of a well-written dissertation, let’s take a look at some examples. These examples offer valuable insights into the structure, depth of research, and writing style that goes into creating a solid dissertation.

Example Dissertation #1: “Impact of Nurse-Patient Communication on Patient Satisfaction and Health Outcomes”

In this dissertation, the nurse researcher investigates the correlation between the quality of nurse-patient communication and its influence on patient satisfaction and health outcomes. This research is crucial because it highlights the role of nurses not only as caregivers but also as communicators in healthcare settings.

Example Dissertation #2: “An Examination of Stress Levels Among Nurses Working in Pediatric Intensive Care Units”

This study focuses on the work-related stress experienced by nurses in pediatric intensive care units. The dissertation could cover potential coping mechanisms, the impact on patient care, and strategies for management at an organizational level. The practical implications of such research could lead to improved working conditions for nurses and better care for patients.

Example Dissertation #3: “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Continuing Professional Development Programs for Nurses”

In this dissertation, the effectiveness of continuing professional development (CPD) programs for nurses is critically assessed. It examines the current state of CPD programs, their benefits, and shortcomings and proposes enhancements based on the collected data. This research could potentially influence the quality and delivery of CPD programs, leading to enhanced skills and competencies among practicing nurses.

These examples serve to illustrate how a nursing dissertation can tackle pressing issues in the field, influence practice, and contribute to improving patient care.

Final Thoughts on Writing Nursing Dissertations

Writing a nursing dissertation or thesis may feel like climbing a mountain, but remember, the view from the top is worth it. It’s an opportunity to contribute to the nursing field and showcase your research and writing skills. We hope this guide has provided you with a clear pathway to undertake this academic journey with confidence and diligence.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dissertations

What is a dissertation?

A dissertation is a formal, original piece of research on a specific topic. It’s a requirement for most doctoral programs and some Master’s programs.

What is the purpose of a dissertation?

The purpose of a dissertation is to contribute new knowledge or theories to your field. It also demonstrates your ability to conduct in-depth research and present your findings clearly and logically.

What are the critical elements of a dissertation?

A dissertation consists of several key elements, including an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion.

What’s the difference between a dissertation vs. a thesis?

A dissertation is a requirement for a doctoral degree and contributes new knowledge or theories to your field. A thesis is a requirement for a Master’s degree and expands on existing knowledge.

How long does it take to write a dissertation?

The time it takes to write a dissertation varies widely, but generally, it can take several months to a few years.

Is 2 months enough to write a dissertation?

Two months may be enough to write a dissertation if your research is already complete and you’re able to commit to a rigorous writing schedule. However, it’s more common for the process to take a longer time.

What is the format of writing a dissertation?

A dissertation follows a specific structure, which includes an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion, among other elements.

What are the steps in writing a dissertation?

The steps include understanding what a dissertation is, finding a research topic, writing a research proposal, crafting an introduction, conducting a literature review, carrying out research, presenting findings, and drawing conclusions.

What can I write my nursing dissertation on?

You can write your thesis or dissertation on various evidence-based nursing thesis topics like patient safety, nursing ethics, mental health nursing, pediatric nursing, or the impact of technology in nursing. The topic should be something that interests you and is significant to the field of nursing.

What is a dissertation for nursing?

A nursing dissertation is a comprehensive piece of research that a student undertakes during their nursing degree course. It’s a detailed study on a particular aspect of nursing that adds to the existing body of knowledge in the nursing field.

Do nursing students write a dissertation?

Yes, nursing students usually write a dissertation during the final year of their degree course. The dissertation is an opportunity for students to specialize in a particular area of interest in nursing and conduct in-depth research.

How many words is a dissertation in nursing?

The word count for a nursing dissertation varies based on the level of study. For a Master’s degree, it ranges from 10,000 to 20,000 words. For a doctoral degree, it can be upwards of 50,000 words.

How long does it take to write a nursing dissertation or thesis?

The time it takes varies widely depending on your research topic, design, and personal commitment. However, typically, a Master’s thesis can take a year or more, while a doctoral dissertation may take several years.

Can I publish my nursing dissertation or thesis?

Absolutely! Many nursing students publish their dissertations or theses in scholarly journals. It’s a great way to contribute to the nursing field and enhance your professional portfolio.

How important is the proposal in writing a nursing dissertation or thesis?

The proposal is critically important. It serves as your research roadmap, outlining your problem, objectives, and methods. It also needs to be approved before you can start your research.

What if I can’t find a suitable topic for my nursing dissertation or thesis?

If you’re struggling to find a topic, consider discussing with your academic advisor or colleagues for ideas. You might also find inspiration by reading current nursing literature.

How do I handle the stress associated with writing a nursing dissertation or thesis?

Try to maintain a balanced lifestyle with regular breaks, physical activity, and social interactions. Also, remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself, and don’t be afraid to seek support when needed.

What should I expect in the defense of my nursing dissertation or thesis?

During the defense, you’ll present your research to a panel. Expect to summarize your work and answer questions about your research methodology, findings, and implications.

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