The university’s expectations for a doctoral dissertation reads as follows:

The doctoral dissertation must present the results of the student’s original investigation in the field of primary interest. It must represent a contribution to knowledge, adequately supported by data, and be written in a manner consistent with the highest standards of scholarship. All  doctoral students are required to submit a dissertation in accordance with the ETD Guide. Publication is expected and encouraged.”

-Graduate Student Handbook, Section 3.7.B.

Writing a dissertation is a major requirement for doctoral students in the completion of their degrees. It continually proves to be the most difficult part of the doctoral process, sometimes taking several years to finish. Thesis and Dissertation Support Services analyzed nearly 400 dissertations deposited at NC State.

The goals of this report are to:

  • Help doctoral students gain a better understanding of the genre of the dissertation.
  • Serve as a resource for NC State faculty and administrators as they advise doctoral students.

Key Findings By College

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

CALS had a near uniformity in type of dissertation. Of the 43 dissertations we looked at in this college, 41 (95%) were Type 4: Research Article Dissertations. One of the exceptions was in the Agricultural and Extension Education program, where the student wrote a Type 1: Simple Traditional Dissertation (you will find that Education dissertations in this study are uniformly Type 1: Simple Traditional Dissertations, though since the data collection of this report, there have been a few exceptions).

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

During the time of our sample, the college of Humanities and Social Sciences consisted of 4 doctoral programs in which students were at the point of completing a dissertation: CRDM, Psychology, Public Administration, and Sociology. Our sample contains dissertations from all of these disciplines (see pages 14-15). Of the 24 dissertations collected, 63 percent are Type 1: Simple Traditional dissertations. The Public History doctoral program is only in its second year, thus no students have completed dissertations yet. While we do not have any dissertations from Public History, the program offers an extensive handbook on the program and expectations, including dissertation expectations.

College of Design

The College of Design consists of a single doctoral program with seven areas of research interest. Overall, Type 1: Simple Traditional Dissertations occurred the most in our sample (62.5%). However, nine of the ten simple traditional dissertations fell into a subcategory of extended simple traditional dissertations. See page 16 of the Dissertation Report for more information on this type of dissertation.

College of Education

The 37 dissertations collected from the College of Education were unanimously Type 1: Simple Traditional Dissertations (see page 16). As a whole, the 37 dissertations from this college made up 45 percent of the Type 1: Simple Traditional Dissertations in our sample. Dissertations at NC State are beginning to consist of mostly Type 4: Research Articles. In our sample, 65 percent of dissertations were Type 4: Research Article Dissertations.

For more information on these types of dissertations, please see page 4 of the report for a detailed explanation of Type 1 dissertations and pages 6-7 for a more detailed explanation of Type 4 dissertations. You will notice that one of the big differences is that a Type 1 dissertation is a longer, more detailed version of one of the research articles included in a Type 4 dissertation.

College of Engineering

We collected 124 dissertations from all twelve doctoral programs in the College of Engineering. This college has the most variation in types of dissertations, though Type 4: Research Article Dissertations are still the dominant form. In addition to variation in type of dissertation, the College of Engineering had the most variation in page lengths. This college contained the dissertation with the fewest pages (23 pages in Aerospace Engineering) and the most pages (1,022 in Civil Engineering. To view information about a specific program within the College of Engineering, please see our Dissertations Report and our Dissertation Data sheet.

College of Management

The College of Management only consists of one doctoral program: Economics. Of the 15 dissertations collected, 13 (87%) were Type 4: Research Article Dissertations and only 2 (13%) were Type 1: Simple Traditional Dissertations. For more information on Type 1 dissertations see page 4 and for more detailed information on Type 4 dissertations, see pages 6-7. While 87 percent of Economics dissertations are classified as Type 4: Research Article Dissertations, 8 of these dissertations (62%) use the term “essay” in the title to refer to their research article (see page 18).

College of Natural Resources

The College of Natural Resources dissertations were almost uniformly Type 4: Research Article Dissertations. Of the 24 total dissertations collected, 23(96%) were Type 4 and the other 1(4%) was a Type 1: Simple Traditional Dissertation.

College of Sciences

The second highest number of dissertations came from the College of Sciences. The Type 4: Research Article Dissertation represents a majority of the dissertations within this college. However, there were also a notable number of Type 3: Topic-Based Dissertations which came mostly from the three mathematics programs. See page 20 for more information on dissertations in the College of Sciences.

College of Textiles

We collected 16 dissertations from two programs in the College of Textiles. Of the 16 dissertations, 63%) were Type 4: Research Article Dissertations. Of the four Textile Technology Management dissertations, three were Type 1: Simple Traditional Dissertations. All consisted of five chapters and contained an introduction and conclusion. The fourth Textiles Technology Management dissertation was classified as an “Other” dissertation (see page 8 of the report for more details on “Other” dissertations).

College of Veterinary Medicine

The College of Veterinary Medicine contains one PhD program: comparative and Biomedical Sciences. Unanimously, all 15 of the dissertations collected were Type 4: Research Article Dissertations. Usually, Research Article Dissertations consist of an Introduction chapter, research article chapters (for the middle chapters), and a conclusion (see page 6 of the report). However, in our sample of dissertations from the College of Veterinary Medicine, we found that only 20 percent contained introductions and only 53 percent contained conclusions. Surprisingly, of the 15 dissertations, 6 (40%) contained a literature review (see pages 20-21).


For more information about dissertations at NC State University, please see the following links:

Coming Soon!
We have expanded our report to include other STEM schools. See how dissertations at multiple research universities compare.