Meeting with Doctoral Students at PKU, 27 September 2019
1. A Doctoral (PhD, JSD) dissertation should be “analytical” rather than “descriptive”.
2. Selection of the topic for a doctoral dissertation: Originality and uniqueness of the analytical perspective is the key for a doctoral dissertation. 75% of a successful dissertation is determined by how you select the topic. (It is only 25% that depends on your efforts.) The topic should be narrowly defined. Writing a dissertation is like digging a hole for a “well”. If the diameter of the well is too wide, you will never reach the underground water. If it is defined properly narrowly, you will be able to reach the underground water stream. This way, you will see the world of “universality” from a narrow perspective of “specialty”.
3. Length of a dissertation: For a master’s thesis, 100,000 letters; For a doctoral dissertation, 300,000 letters (Unwritten law in Japan). If the length is three times, one needs to devote, not 3 times of energy, but 3 × 3 = 9 times (二乗倍) of energy for writing the dissertation. (Suppose you spent 4 months to write your master’s thesis, you would need to spend, not 12 months but 36 months, to write a doctoral dissertation.) Otherwise, it will be a flat and monotonous paper which would not be interesting to read. A dissertation should be, so to speak, three-dimensional.
4. Quotation: For a master’s thesis, one needs to quote two foreign languages (English and French); For a doctoral dissertation, one needs to quote three foreign languages (English, French and German) (Unwritten law in Japan). Professor Gong Ren Ren rightly deplores that many of the Chinese scholars only quote English and Chinese material.
5. Structure of the dissertation
Title: The title should be precisely “to the point” of the theme. Try to give an “attractive” title (in the academic sense). Putting a sub-title may be useful.
Table of Contents: It is important that a reader can see the logical flow of the whole dissertation at a glance of the contents.
(i) Presentation of the problems (What is the rationale for presenting the problems to be discussed in the present dissertation?; why it is important to consider them today?) [The problems presented in the “Introduction” should be answered in the “Conclusion” through proven considerations in the Substantive Chapters.]
(ii) Prior studies (and the present theoretical status of the topic)
(iii) Scope and Methodology
(iv) Order of discussion in the Substantive Chapters
b. Substantive Chapters
[Substantive chapters should be organized to ensure a logical and “three-dimensional” development of the issues presented in the Introduction.]
(i) The problems that were posed in the Introduction must be answered in the Conclusion through discussion in the Substantive Chapters
(ii) Remaining unresolved problems
(iii) Prospects for the future
d. Bibliography and Annexes
Try to write clear and succinct sentences. Read aloud and listen to what you have written. If you cannot read smoothly, something must be wrong in the sentence. Oral reading is useful to improve the sentence.
One paragraph should be around 200 letters. It is desirable to confine
the paragraph one specific point within a paragraph.
7. First Draft and Final Draft
The dissertation will improve dramatically between the first draft and the second draft. Keep revising your draft until the time of submission of your final draft.
8. After completion of a doctoral dissertation, try to publish it in English in academic journals. You don’t exist as an international lawyer unless you are known outside China. Keep writing. Publish or Perish!