Dissertation Overview

Standards that Need to Be Met

  • The dissertation must be a major piece of independent scholarly research
  • Topic and scope of the dissertation must be restricted and clearly defined. The problem which needs to be solved by way of academic research must be explicitly defined in the introduction, and the appropriate methods and logical steps to solve it need to be stated clearly.
  • A dissertation should concisely demonstrate awareness of the current state of research on the topic as well as of the latest relevant literature and state it concisely. It should go from there to the argument, and not dwell at length on matters already covered satisfactorily by others.
  • A dissertation must show ability to precisely handle the appropriate methods in the chosen field of research. The student has to work with the relevant sources, and must diligently document the use of primary and secondary sources. One cannot make claims without substantiation.
  • The dissertation should normally be between 250 and 300 pages in length plus footnotes, bibliography and appendices.


The style of the writing must be clear, professional and grammatically proper. It should follow the conventions of academic literature that are found in international scholarly journals and monographs.

The Use of Primary and Secondary Sources

These sources are the basis for Ph.D. research. Their nature and the methodology with them will vary widely with the topic, as does the length of discussion justifying their selection. Primary sources are either original documents, the recorded results of one’s own investigations or direct information from a person who is the object of study. Secondary sources are (usually documented) references by others to such primary sources. Primary as well as secondary sources must be identified in such a way that they can be traced by the reader. In a dissertation, a student must use all primary sources that are relevant to the research and accessible. Use of secondary sources is appropriate:

If the primary source is not accessible,
To identify the source whenever arguments or information are obtained from it,
To inform the readers about opponents and supporters of a certain opinion;
When the source provides opinions or arguments that need to be challenged.

Research in Other Languages

All relevant sources in a dissertation must be processed in their original language. E.g. where patristic opinion is studied, it will be necessary to make use of the patristic texts (especially the writings in Latin or Greek) in the original languages. Requirements may be less strict when a dissertation does not involve a detailed study of patristic writings, but a more synthetic overview of opinion about a certain topic. It is acceptable to make use of translations of literature in a language in which the student is not fluent. However, when dealing with a very particular statement the student needs to check the wording in the original text when:

  • The editor of a translation signals different possible interpretations;
  • The translations contradict each other;
  • he students feels uncertain about the rendering in the translation;
  • The precise wording of a phase or statement is important for proving the student’s point.

A student should include in the research the directly relevant scholarly literature in the main European languages (English, German, and French). Interaction with literature in other languages is not only desirable but it is also indispensable particularly if the subject is pertinent for researchers within that specific language area.