Dissertation Structure & Layout 101: How to structure your dissertation, thesis or research project.
By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | July 2019
So, you’ve got a decent understanding of what a dissertation is , you’ve chosen your topic and hopefully you’ve received approval for your research proposal . Awesome! Now its time to start the actual dissertation or thesis writing journey.
To craft a high-quality document, the very first thing you need to understand is dissertation structure . In this post, we’ll walk you through the generic dissertation structure and layout, step by step. We’ll start with the big picture, and then zoom into each chapter to briefly discuss the core contents. If you’re just starting out on your research journey, you should start with this post, which covers the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis .
*The Caveat *
In this post, we’ll be discussing a traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout, which is generally used for social science research across universities, whether in the US, UK, Europe or Australia. However, some universities may have small variations on this structure (extra chapters, merged chapters, slightly different ordering, etc).
So, always check with your university if they have a prescribed structure or layout that they expect you to work with. If not, it’s safe to assume the structure we’ll discuss here is suitable. And even if they do have a prescribed structure, you’ll still get value from this post as we’ll explain the core contents of each section.
Overview: S tructuring a dissertation or thesis
- Acknowledgements page
- Abstract (or executive summary)
- Table of contents , list of figures and tables
- Chapter 1: Introduction
- Chapter 2: Literature review
- Chapter 3: Methodology
- Chapter 4: Results
- Chapter 5: Discussion
- Chapter 6: Conclusion
- Reference list
As I mentioned, some universities will have slight variations on this structure. For example, they want an additional “personal reflection chapter”, or they might prefer the results and discussion chapter to be merged into one. Regardless, the overarching flow will always be the same, as this flow reflects the research process , which we discussed here – i.e.:
- The introduction chapter presents the core research question and aims .
- The literature review chapter assesses what the current research says about this question.
- The methodology, results and discussion chapters go about undertaking new research about this question.
- The conclusion chapter (attempts to) answer the core research question.
In other words, the dissertation structure and layout reflect the research process of asking a well-defined question(s), investigating, and then answering the question – see below.
To restate that – the structure and layout of a dissertation reflect the flow of the overall research process . This is essential to understand, as each chapter will make a lot more sense if you “get” this concept. If you’re not familiar with the research process, read this post before going further.
Right. Now that we’ve covered the big picture, let’s dive a little deeper into the details of each section and chapter. Oh and by the way, you can also grab our free dissertation/thesis template here to help speed things up.
The title page of your dissertation is the very first impression the marker will get of your work, so it pays to invest some time thinking about your title. But what makes for a good title? A strong title needs to be 3 things:
- Succinct (not overly lengthy or verbose)
- Specific (not vague or ambiguous)
- Representative of the research you’re undertaking (clearly linked to your research questions)
Typically, a good title includes mention of the following:
- The broader area of the research (i.e. the overarching topic)
- The specific focus of your research (i.e. your specific context)
- Indication of research design (e.g. quantitative , qualitative , or mixed methods ).
A quantitative investigation [research design] into the antecedents of organisational trust [broader area] in the UK retail forex trading market [specific context/area of focus].
Again, some universities may have specific requirements regarding the format and structure of the title, so it’s worth double-checking expectations with your institution (if there’s no mention in the brief or study material).
This page provides you with an opportunity to say thank you to those who helped you along your research journey. Generally, it’s optional (and won’t count towards your marks), but it is academic best practice to include this.
So, who do you say thanks to? Well, there’s no prescribed requirements, but it’s common to mention the following people:
- Your dissertation supervisor or committee.
- Any professors, lecturers or academics that helped you understand the topic or methodologies.
- Any tutors, mentors or advisors.
- Your family and friends, especially spouse (for adult learners studying part-time).
There’s no need for lengthy rambling. Just state who you’re thankful to and for what (e.g. thank you to my supervisor, John Doe, for his endless patience and attentiveness) – be sincere. In terms of length, you should keep this to a page or less.
Abstract or executive summary
The dissertation abstract (or executive summary for some degrees) serves to provide the first-time reader (and marker or moderator) with a big-picture view of your research project. It should give them an understanding of the key insights and findings from the research, without them needing to read the rest of the report – in other words, it should be able to stand alone .
For it to stand alone, your abstract should cover the following key points (at a minimum):
- Your research questions and aims – what key question(s) did your research aim to answer?
- Your methodology – how did you go about investigating the topic and finding answers to your research question(s)?
- Your findings – following your own research, what did do you discover?
- Your conclusions – based on your findings, what conclusions did you draw? What answers did you find to your research question(s)?
So, in much the same way the dissertation structure mimics the research process, your abstract or executive summary should reflect the research process, from the initial stage of asking the original question to the final stage of answering that question.
In practical terms, it’s a good idea to write this section up last , once all your core chapters are complete. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing and rewriting this section multiple times (just wasting time). For a step by step guide on how to write a strong executive summary, check out this post .
Need a helping hand?
Table of contents
This section is straightforward. You’ll typically present your table of contents (TOC) first, followed by the two lists – figures and tables. I recommend that you use Microsoft Word’s automatic table of contents generator to generate your TOC. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, the video below explains it simply:
If you find that your table of contents is overly lengthy, consider removing one level of depth. Oftentimes, this can be done without detracting from the usefulness of the TOC.
Right, now that the “admin” sections are out of the way, its time to move on to your core chapters. These chapters are the heart of your dissertation and are where you’ll earn the marks. The first chapter is the introduction chapter – as you would expect, this is the time to introduce your research…
- What will you be investigating (in plain-language, big picture-level)?
- Why is that worth investigating? How is it important to academia or business? How is it sufficiently original?
- What are your research aims and research question(s)? Note that the research questions can sometimes be presented at the end of the literature review (next chapter).
- What is the scope of your study? In other words, what will and won’t you cover ?
- How will you approach your research? In other words, what methodology will you adopt?
- How will you structure your dissertation? What are the core chapters and what will you do in each of them?
- What does the literature currently say about the topic you’re investigating?
- Is the literature lacking or well established? Is it divided or in disagreement?
- How does your research fit into the bigger picture?
- How does your research contribute something original?
- How does the methodology of previous studies help you develop your own?
Now that you’ve investigated the current state of knowledge in your literature review chapter and are familiar with the existing key theories, models and frameworks, its time to design your own research. Enter the methodology chapter – the most “science-ey” of the chapters…
In this chapter, you need to address two critical questions:
- Exactly HOW will you carry out your research (i.e. what is your intended research design)?
- Exactly WHY have you chosen to do things this way (i.e. how do you justify your design)?
Remember, the dissertation part of your degree is first and foremost about developing and demonstrating research skills . Therefore, the markers want to see that you know which methods to use, can clearly articulate why you’ve chosen then, and know how to deploy them effectively.
Importantly, this chapter requires detail – don’t hold back on the specifics. State exactly what you’ll be doing, with who, when, for how long, etc. Moreover, for every design choice you make, make sure you justify it.
In practice, you will likely end up coming back to this chapter once you’ve undertaken all your data collection and analysis, and revise it based on changes you made during the analysis phase. This is perfectly fine. Its natural for you to add an additional analysis technique, scrap an old one, etc based on where your data lead you. Of course, I’m talking about small changes here – not a fundamental switch from qualitative to quantitative, which will likely send your supervisor in a spin!
You’ve now collected your data and undertaken your analysis, whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. In this chapter, you’ll present the raw results of your analysis . For example, in the case of a quant study, you’ll present the demographic data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, etc.
Typically, Chapter 4 is simply a presentation and description of the data, not a discussion of the meaning of the data. In other words, it’s descriptive, rather than analytical – the meaning is discussed in Chapter 5. However, some universities will want you to combine chapters 4 and 5, so that you both present and interpret the meaning of the data at the same time. Check with your institution what their preference is.
Now that you’ve presented the data analysis results, its time to interpret and analyse them. In other words, its time to discuss what they mean, especially in relation to your research question(s).
What you discuss here will depend largely on your chosen methodology. For example, if you’ve gone the quantitative route, you might discuss the relationships between variables . If you’ve gone the qualitative route, you might discuss key themes and the meanings thereof. It all depends on what your research design choices were.
Most importantly, you need to discuss your results in relation to your research questions and aims, as well as the existing literature. What do the results tell you about your research questions? Are they aligned with the existing research or at odds? If so, why might this be? Dig deep into your findings and explain what the findings suggest, in plain English.
The final chapter – you’ve made it! Now that you’ve discussed your interpretation of the results, its time to bring it back to the beginning with the conclusion chapter . In other words, its time to (attempt to) answer your original research question s (from way back in chapter 1). Clearly state what your conclusions are in terms of your research questions. This might feel a bit repetitive, as you would have touched on this in the previous chapter, but its important to bring the discussion full circle and explicitly state your answer(s) to the research question(s).
Next, you’ll typically discuss the implications of your findings? In other words, you’ve answered your research questions – but what does this mean for the real world (or even for academia)? What should now be done differently, given the new insight you’ve generated?
Lastly, you should discuss the limitations of your research, as well as what this means for future research in the area. No study is perfect, especially not a Masters-level. Discuss the shortcomings of your research. Perhaps your methodology was limited, perhaps your sample size was small or not representative, etc, etc. Don’t be afraid to critique your work – the markers want to see that you can identify the limitations of your work. This is a strength, not a weakness. Be brutal!
This marks the end of your core chapters – woohoo! From here on out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.
The reference list is straightforward. It should contain a list of all resources cited in your dissertation, in the required format, e.g. APA, Harvard, etc.
It’s essential that you use reference management software for your dissertation. Do NOT try handle your referencing manually – its far too error prone. On a reference list of multiple pages, you’re going to make mistake. To this end, I suggest considering either Mendeley or Zotero. Both are free and provide a very straightforward interface to ensure that your referencing is 100% on point. I’ve included a simple how-to video for the Mendeley software (my personal favourite) below:
Some universities may ask you to include a bibliography, as opposed to a reference list. These two things are not the same . A bibliography is similar to a reference list, except that it also includes resources which informed your thinking but were not directly cited in your dissertation. So, double-check your brief and make sure you use the right one.
The very last piece of the puzzle is the appendix or set of appendices. This is where you’ll include any supporting data and evidence. Importantly, supporting is the keyword here.
Your appendices should provide additional “nice to know”, depth-adding information, which is not critical to the core analysis. Appendices should not be used as a way to cut down word count (see this post which covers how to reduce word count ). In other words, don’t place content that is critical to the core analysis here, just to save word count. You will not earn marks on any content in the appendices, so don’t try to play the system!
Time to recap…
And there you have it – the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows:
- Acknowledgments page
Most importantly, the core chapters should reflect the research process (asking, investigating and answering your research question). Moreover, the research question(s) should form the golden thread throughout your dissertation structure. Everything should revolve around the research questions, and as you’ve seen, they should form both the start point (i.e. introduction chapter) and the endpoint (i.e. conclusion chapter).
I hope this post has provided you with clarity about the traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below, or feel free to get in touch with us. Also, be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach Blog .
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our research writing mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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many thanks i found it very useful
Glad to hear that, Arun. Good luck writing your dissertation.
Such clear practical logical advice. I very much needed to read this to keep me focused in stead of fretting.. Perfect now ready to start my research!
what about scientific fields like computer or engineering thesis what is the difference in the structure? thank you very much
Thanks so much this helped me a lot!
Very helpful and accessible. What I like most is how practical the advice is along with helpful tools/ links.
Thank you so much sir.. It was really helpful..
Hi! How many words maximum should contain the abstract?
Thank you so much 😊 Find this at the right moment
You’re most welcome. Good luck with your dissertation.
best ever benefit i got on right time thank you
Many times Clarity and vision of destination of dissertation is what makes the difference between good ,average and great researchers the same way a great automobile driver is fast with clarity of address and Clear weather conditions .
I guess Great researcher = great ideas + knowledge + great and fast data collection and modeling + great writing + high clarity on all these
You have given immense clarity from start to end.
Morning. Where will I write the definitions of what I’m referring to in my report?
Thank you so much Derek, I was almost lost! Thanks a tonnnn! Have a great day!
Thanks ! so concise and valuable
This was very helpful. Clear and concise. I know exactly what to do now.
Thank you for allowing me to go through briefly. I hope to find time to continue.
Really useful to me. Thanks a thousand times
Very interesting! It will definitely set me and many more for success. highly recommended.
Usefull, thanks a lot. Really clear
That was incredibly useful. Thanks Grad Coach Crew!
My stress level just dropped at least 15 points after watching this. Just starting my thesis for my grad program and I feel a lot more capable now! Thanks for such a clear and helpful video, Emma and the GradCoach team!
Do we need to mention the number of words the dissertation contains in the main document?
It depends on your university’s requirements, so it would be best to check with them 🙂
Such a helpful post to help me get started with structuring my masters dissertation, thank you!
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Dissertation Chapters: A Guide to Writing Your Dissertation
Embarking on your dissertation is equal parts exhilaration and trepidation. It’s finally your turn to stake out your territory in the body of knowledge and hone your expertise. Naturally, it’s a lot of work, the evidence of which is reflected in your dissertation chapters. These chapters, which comprise the bulk of your dissertation, offer a clear snapshot of your topic, the work that has already been done by other scholars in your field, gaps in the literature, complications, your approach, and more.
There are many moving parts to a dissertation, and the best way to simplify them is by chapter. Each chapter follows certain rules and serves a specific purpose. The most efficient way to break down the work ahead of you into pieces is to understand the role each chapter plays in the dissertation.
These are frequently asked questions about dissertation chapters.
- How many chapters are in a dissertation?
- What is the content of each dissertation chapter?
- How long is each dissertation chapter?
- How long does it take to write dissertation chapters?
How Many Dissertation Chapters are in a Dissertation?
Usually five. While there are no short answers in academia, five dissertation chapters is the convention across many fields, if not most. Five dissertation chapters is a safe bet. As always, though, do your homework and find out exactly what the expectations are for dissertations in your department.
Read (skim) dissertations written by recent graduates from your department to determine norms for chapter length and the extensiveness of the critical research they did and the studies they conducted. The average could be anything from 130 pages (math) to 500+ pages (history) –either way, you need to know. Also, visit office hours and talk to a few faculty members in your department. Whether they end up on your dissertation committee or not, their perspective will be helpful.
Content of Each Dissertation Chapter
There is a format for the structure of a dissertation that most fields adhere to, and it is very specific. The first three chapters constitute your dissertation proposal , which must be completed, defended, and approved by your dissertation committee. Once your proposal is successfully defended, you can proceed with the research you will need to do to write the two final chapters.
- Dissertation Chapter One: Introduction to the Study This chapter includes your problem and purpose statements, research questions, and definitions of key terms examined in your research.
- Dissertation Chapter Two: Literature Review This section is a deep dive of the extant research on your topic, as well as your opportunity to identify and highlight gaps in the literature.
- Dissertation Chapter Three: Research Methods This chapter offers a summary of how you propose to collect data and your methods of analysis.
- Dissertation Chapter Four: Results In this section, you present your findings and share the results of your study.
- Dissertation Chapter Five: Conclusion The final chapter is an opportunity to offer your analysis of your findings and discuss the implications.
How Long is a Dissertation Chapter?
Dissertation chapter lengths vary, though the number of pages you can expect to write will likely correlate with standard dissertation lengths in your discipline. If you are doing research in a field like anthropology or theology, be prepared to conduct extensive literature reviews and write lengthy chapters. Topics that require a great deal of background information also make the pages add up.
When thinking about the length of your dissertation chapters, also be aware that chapter lengths are not evenly divided. The bulk of your writing happens in the first three chapters, especially if the literature review covers a lot of ground. If you are writing a 130-page dissertation, the dissertation proposal will take up more than half of that space. Results sections can be comparatively short, and many scholars linger in the conclusion chapter because it’s their time to shine and it’s fun to write.
How Long Does It Take to Write Dissertation Chapters?
The amount of time it takes to write a dissertation depends on many factors and can vary greatly depending on the student, the program, and the discipline. This is a great conversation to have with your dissertation advisor, or even the chair of your department if you are still in the early stages of your graduate education. It never hurts to have a rough timeline in mind so you can get organized and plan for the journey ahead.
These elements often determine the amount of time it takes to write dissertation chapters:
Some graduate degrees take longer than others, and much of that disparity occurs after coursework is completed. In many arts programs, most of the dissertation is written while coursework is taking place. It’s a different story in the sciences and humanities. In fields like biology and chemistry, issues like lab space and institutional approval must be resolved before a study can even begin, much less be written about, and that can take months. In fields like history, the scholarly research phase is similarly extensive.
University libraries are an academic wonderland, but that doesn’t mean they hold all the answers or everything that you’ll need to get to work on your literature review or background material. Like many burgeoning scholars, I was excited to discover that I would need to travel in order to undertake some archival research for the critical introduction to my dissertation. However, the time required to set this up and visit the sites extended the amount of time it took to write these dissertation chapters.
Life has a sneaky way of persisting, even when you have a dissertation to write. Many scholars experience unavoidable stops and starts while writing their dissertations, and it’s important to make allowances for being human, even if it interferes with your writing schedule. In my experience, we do our best to write as quickly as possible, but there are inevitable hiccups along the way. No matter. Course correct and keep going. You can do this, and the rewards of having a completed, bound dissertation in your hands will make all the effort worthwhile.
Courtney Watson, Ph.D.
Courtney Watson, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English at Radford University Carilion, in Roanoke, Virginia. Her areas of expertise include undergraduate and graduate curriculum development for writing courses in the health sciences and American literature with a focus on literary travel, tourism, and heritage economies. Her writing and academic scholarship has been widely published in places that include Studies in American Culture , Dialogue , and The Virginia Quarterly Review . Her research on the integration of humanities into STEM education will be published by Routledge in an upcoming collection. Dr. Watson has also been nominated by the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Rising Star Award, and she is a past winner of the National Society of Arts & Letters Regional Short Story Prize, as well as institutional awards for scholarly research and excellence in teaching. Throughout her career in higher education, Dr. Watson has served in faculty governance and administration as a frequent committee chair and program chair. As a higher education consultant, she has served as a subject matter expert, an evaluator, and a contributor to white papers exploring program development, enrollment research, and educational mergers and acquisitions.
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What Is a Dissertation? | Guide, Examples, & Template
A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program.
Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you’ve ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating to know where to begin.
Your department likely has guidelines related to how your dissertation should be structured. When in doubt, consult with your supervisor.
You can also download our full dissertation template in the format of your choice below. The template includes a ready-made table of contents with notes on what to include in each chapter, easily adaptable to your department’s requirements.
Download Word template Download Google Docs template
- In the US, a dissertation generally refers to the collection of research you conducted to obtain a PhD.
- In other countries (such as the UK), a dissertation often refers to the research you conduct to obtain your bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Table of contents
Dissertation committee and prospectus process, how to write and structure a dissertation, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your dissertation, free checklist and lecture slides.
When you’ve finished your coursework, as well as any comprehensive exams or other requirements, you advance to “ABD” (All But Dissertation) status. This means you’ve completed everything except your dissertation.
Prior to starting to write, you must form your committee and write your prospectus or proposal . Your committee comprises your adviser and a few other faculty members. They can be from your own department, or, if your work is more interdisciplinary, from other departments. Your committee will guide you through the dissertation process, and ultimately decide whether you pass your dissertation defense and receive your PhD.
Your prospectus is a formal document presented to your committee, usually orally in a defense, outlining your research aims and objectives and showing why your topic is relevant . After passing your prospectus defense, you’re ready to start your research and writing.
The structure of your dissertation depends on a variety of factors, such as your discipline, topic, and approach. Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an overall argument to support a central thesis , with chapters organized around different themes or case studies.
However, hard science and social science dissertations typically include a review of existing works, a methodology section, an analysis of your original research, and a presentation of your results , presented in different chapters.
We’ve compiled a list of dissertation examples to help you get started.
- Example dissertation #1: Heat, Wildfire and Energy Demand: An Examination of Residential Buildings and Community Equity (a dissertation by C. A. Antonopoulos about the impact of extreme heat and wildfire on residential buildings and occupant exposure risks).
- Example dissertation #2: Exploring Income Volatility and Financial Health Among Middle-Income Households (a dissertation by M. Addo about income volatility and declining economic security among middle-income households).
- Example dissertation #3: The Use of Mindfulness Meditation to Increase the Efficacy of Mirror Visual Feedback for Reducing Phantom Limb Pain in Amputees (a dissertation by N. S. Mills about the effect of mindfulness-based interventions on the relationship between mirror visual feedback and the pain level in amputees with phantom limb pain).
What can proofreading do for your paper?
Scribbr editors not only correct grammar and spelling mistakes, but also strengthen your writing by making sure your paper is free of vague language, redundant words, and awkward phrasing.
See editing example
The very first page of your document contains your dissertation title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo.
Read more about title pages
The acknowledgements section is usually optional and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you. In some cases, your acknowledgements are part of a preface.
Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces
The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150 to 300 words long. Though this may seem very short, it’s one of the most important parts of your dissertation, because it introduces your work to your audience.
Your abstract should:
- State your main topic and the aims of your research
- Describe your methods
- Summarize your main results
- State your conclusions
Read more about abstracts
The table of contents lists all of your chapters, along with corresponding subheadings and page numbers. This gives your reader an overview of your structure and helps them easily navigate your document.
Remember to include all main parts of your dissertation in your table of contents, even the appendices. It’s easy to generate a table automatically in Word if you used heading styles. Generally speaking, you only include level 2 and level 3 headings, not every subheading you included in your finished work.
Read more about tables of contents
While not usually mandatory, it’s nice to include a list of figures and tables to help guide your reader if you have used a lot of these in your dissertation. It’s easy to generate one of these in Word using the Insert Caption feature.
Read more about lists of figures and tables
Similarly, if you have used a lot of abbreviations (especially industry-specific ones) in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.
Read more about lists of abbreviations
In addition to the list of abbreviations, if you find yourself using a lot of highly specialized terms that you worry will not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary. Here, alphabetize the terms and include a brief description or definition.
Read more about glossaries
The introduction serves to set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance. It tells the reader what to expect in the rest of your dissertation. The introduction should:
- Establish your research topic , giving the background information needed to contextualize your work
- Narrow down the focus and define the scope of your research
- Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
- Clearly state your research questions and objectives
- Outline the flow of the rest of your work
Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant. By the end, the reader should understand the what, why, and how of your research.
Read more about introductions
A formative part of your research is your literature review . This helps you gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic.
Literature reviews encompass:
- Finding relevant sources (e.g., books and journal articles)
- Assessing the credibility of your sources
- Critically analyzing and evaluating each source
- Drawing connections between them (e.g., themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps) to strengthen your overall point
A literature review is not merely a summary of existing sources. Your literature review should have a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear justification for your own research. It may aim to:
- Address a gap in the literature or build on existing knowledge
- Take a new theoretical or methodological approach to your topic
- Propose a solution to an unresolved problem or advance one side of a theoretical debate
Read more about literature reviews
Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework. Here, you define and analyze the key theories, concepts, and models that frame your research.
Read more about theoretical frameworks
Your methodology chapter describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to critically assess its credibility. Your methodology section should accurately report what you did, as well as convince your reader that this was the best way to answer your research question.
A methodology section should generally include:
- The overall research approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative ) and research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
- Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment )
- Details of where, when, and with whom the research took place
- Any tools and materials you used (e.g., computer programs, lab equipment)
- Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
- An evaluation or justification of your methods
Read more about methodology sections
Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses , or themes, but avoid including any subjective or speculative interpretation here.
Your results section should:
- Concisely state each relevant result together with relevant descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
- Briefly state how the result relates to the question or whether the hypothesis was supported
- Report all results that are relevant to your research questions , including any that did not meet your expectations.
Additional data (including raw numbers, full questionnaires, or interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix. You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results. Read more about results sections
Your discussion section is your opportunity to explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research question. Here, interpret your results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. Refer back to relevant source material to show how your results fit within existing research in your field.
Some guiding questions include:
- What do your results mean?
- Why do your results matter?
- What limitations do the results have?
If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data.
Read more about discussion sections
Your dissertation’s conclusion should concisely answer your main research question, leaving your reader with a clear understanding of your central argument and emphasizing what your research has contributed to the field.
In some disciplines, the conclusion is just a short section preceding the discussion section, but in other contexts, it is the final chapter of your work. Here, you wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you found, with recommendations for future research and concluding remarks.
It’s important to leave the reader with a clear impression of why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known? Why is your research necessary for the future of your field?
Read more about conclusions
It is crucial to include a reference list or list of works cited with the full details of all the sources that you used, in order to avoid plagiarism. Be sure to choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your dissertation. Each style has strict and specific formatting requirements.
Common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA , but which style you use is often set by your department or your field.
Create APA citations Create MLA citations
Your dissertation should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents such as interview transcripts or survey questions can be added as appendices, rather than adding them to the main body.
Read more about appendices
Making sure that all of your sections are in the right place is only the first step to a well-written dissertation. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for editing and proofreading, as grammar mistakes and sloppy spelling errors can really negatively impact your work.
Dissertations can take up to five years to write, so you will definitely want to make sure that everything is perfect before submitting. You may want to consider using a professional dissertation editing service to make sure your final project is perfect prior to submitting.
After your written dissertation is approved, your committee will schedule a defense. Similarly to defending your prospectus, dissertation defenses are oral presentations of your work. You’ll present your dissertation, and your committee will ask you questions. Many departments allow family members, friends, and other people who are interested to join as well.
After your defense, your committee will meet, and then inform you whether you have passed. Keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality; most committees will have resolved any serious issues with your work with you far prior to your defense, giving you ample time to fix any problems.
As you write your dissertation, you can use this simple checklist to make sure you’ve included all the essentials.
My title page includes all information required by my university.
I have included acknowledgements thanking those who helped me.
My abstract provides a concise summary of the dissertation, giving the reader a clear idea of my key results or arguments.
I have created a table of contents to help the reader navigate my dissertation. It includes all chapter titles, but excludes the title page, acknowledgements, and abstract.
My introduction leads into my topic in an engaging way and shows the relevance of my research.
My introduction clearly defines the focus of my research, stating my research questions and research objectives .
My introduction includes an overview of the dissertation’s structure (reading guide).
I have conducted a literature review in which I (1) critically engage with sources, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing research, (2) discuss patterns, themes, and debates in the literature, and (3) address a gap or show how my research contributes to existing research.
I have clearly outlined the theoretical framework of my research, explaining the theories and models that support my approach.
I have thoroughly described my methodology , explaining how I collected data and analyzed data.
I have concisely and objectively reported all relevant results .
I have (1) evaluated and interpreted the meaning of the results and (2) acknowledged any important limitations of the results in my discussion .
I have clearly stated the answer to my main research question in the conclusion .
I have clearly explained the implications of my conclusion, emphasizing what new insight my research has contributed.
I have provided relevant recommendations for further research or practice.
If relevant, I have included appendices with supplemental information.
I have included an in-text citation every time I use words, ideas, or information from a source.
I have listed every source in a reference list at the end of my dissertation.
I have consistently followed the rules of my chosen citation style .
I have followed all formatting guidelines provided by my university.
The end is in sight—your dissertation is nearly ready to submit! Make sure it's perfectly polished with the help of a Scribbr editor.
If you’re an educator, feel free to download and adapt these slides to teach your students about structuring a dissertation.
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What are the seven sections of a dissertation?
This is the second of three chapters about Dissertations . To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Discuss the overall dissertation structure
– Explore the common elements of a dissertation
– Consider additional elements which may be added
Chapter 1: What is an academic dissertation?
Chapter 2: What are the seven sections of a dissertation?
Chapter 3: What is an effective dissertation topic?
When writing a dissertation , like any type of essay , it’s important that relatively inexperienced writers follow tried and trusted structures and methods so as to convey ideas, arguments and research as clearly and easily as possible. This chapter therefore offers one such prescribed structure that’s particularly used in social-science dissertations, such as for linguistics, psychology or anthropology. Although other subjects may of course use a slightly different number of sections, place these seven sections in a slightly different order, or expect a different weighting for each section, the example structure we’ve included below should cover most dissertation and thesis types that students will be required to produce.
1. The Abstract (5%)
Both the shortest and first-encountered section of a dissertation , the abstract is intended to provide a very brief overview of the entire research project, highlighting to the reader the aims of the dissertation, the background and context of the investigation, the methodology that’s been used, the study’s key findings, and how this particular study has contributed to the field of knowledge.
2. The Introduction (15%)
Following the abstract , the purpose of the introduction is usually to describe the focus of the dissertation by reviewing the topic’s background and context. An introduction may also identify gaps in the research and how the writer intends to fill those gaps, as well as an outline of the scope of the investigation and the general and argumentative structure of the dissertation.
3. The Literature Review (25%)
The largest section of a dissertation is usually the literature review , which aims to provide a detailed discussion of the existing research that’s most relevant to the investigation. This section usually includes a critical review of both non-research and research literature, as well as any theoretical perspectives that require understanding to support and contextualise the study. Additionally, identification and justification of the research gap being filled in this dissertation as well as an explanation of how all of the above features have informed the dissertation are generally included.
4. The Methodology (15%)
The methodology is usually where the primary (and original) research of the dissertation begins. The purpose of this section is to highlight and justify to the reader the approach, design and processes that were followed to collect the findings, such as whether qualitative or quantitative methods were employed and whether questionnaires, interviews or recordings were used to collect the raw data. This section may include the study’s methodological approach, the research design, justification of the methods used, a discussion of the reliability and validity of those methods, and a description of the data collection and analysis procedures.
5. The Results (10%)
The fifth section (which is sometimes combined with the sixth section) of a dissertation is usually focussed on the results . The primary aim of this chapter is to present the results of the study’s primary research in a clear manner that demonstrates how these results address the dissertation’s research questions. Generally, in the results section the writer will present the relevant findings of the study, explain the implications of those findings, present evidence to support those findings, refer back to the methodology and introductory background information, and perhaps also refer forwards to the discussion of results .
6. The Discussion of Results (15%)
While the results section deals with the raw data, the discussion of results is where these findings are contextualised and their significance explained. As well as reminding the reader of the research aims and how the study’s results work to explore these aims, the writer should additionally present a discussion of how these findings have contributed to the dissertation’s hypotheses and therefore to the overall literature. Some time may also be spent interpreting the study’s findings, comparing them to other research, and evaluating their contribution to the literature.
7. The Conclusion (15%)
The final section of a dissertation is called the conclusion , the purpose of which is to remind the reader of the study’s aims, the key methodology, and the findings of the investigation. The writer may also wish to evaluate the significance of the research, commenting on how this research further develops the theory as well as highlighting any limitations that may have become apparent during the investigation. Finally, how this research can be applied practically may also be outlined to the reader, and any research gaps generated by the study explained.
While these seven sections constitute the bulk of the dissertation , don’t forget to also include a table of contents , a reference list and an appendix if necessary.
Now that we’ve discussed what a dissertation is, when one might be used, and which sections such an extended essay usually contains, the final chapter on this subject is about choosing an effective dissertation topic.
To reference this reader:
Academic Marker (2022) About Dissertations . Available at: https://academicmarker.com/essay-writing/dissertations/about-dissertations/ (Accessed: Date Month Year).
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- Introduction for Types of Dissertations
- Overview of the Dissertation
- Self-Assessment Exercise
- What is a Dissertation Committee
- Different Types of Dissertations
- Introduction for Overview of the Dissertation Process
- Responsibilities: the Chair, the Team and You
- Sorting Exercise
- Stages of a Dissertation
- Managing Your Time
- Create Your Own Timeline
- Working with a Writing Partner
- Key Deadlines
- Self Assessment Exercise
- Additional Resources
- Purpose and Goals
- Read and Evaluate Chapter 1 Exemplars
- Draft an Introduction of the Study
- Outline the Background of the Problem
- Draft your Statement of the Problem
- Draft your Purpose of the Study
- Draft your Significance of the Study
- List the Possible Limitations and Delimitations
- Explicate the Definition of Terms
- Outline the Organization of the Study
- Recommended Resources and Readings
- Purpose of the Literature Review
- What is the Literature?
- Article Summary Table
- Writing a Short Literature Review
- Outline for Literature Review
- Synthesizing the Literature Review
- Purpose of the Methodology Chapter
- Topics to Include
- Preparing to Write the Methodology Chapter
- Building the Components for Chapter Three
- Preparing for Your Qualifying Exam (aka Proposal Defense)
- What is Needed for Your Proposal Defense?
- Submitting Your Best Draft
- Preparing Your Abstract for IRB
- Use of Self-Assessment
- Preparing Your PowerPoint
- During Your Proposal Defense
- After Your Proposal Defense
- Pre-observation – Issues to consider
- During Observations
- Wrapping Up
- Recommended Resources and Readings (Qualitative)
- Quantitative Data Collection
- Recommended Resources and Readings (Quantitative)
- Qualitative: Before you Start
- Qualitative: During Analysis
- Qualitative: After Analysis
- Qualitative: Recommended Resources and Readings
- Quantitative: Deciding on the Right Analysis
- Quantitative: Data Management and Cleaning
- Quantitative: Keep Track of your Analysis
- The Purpose of Chapter 4
- The Elements of Chapter 4
- Presenting Results (Quantitative)
- Presenting Findings (Qualitative)
- Chapter 4 Considerations
- The Purpose of Chapter 5
- Preparing Your Abstract for the Graduate School
- Draft the Introduction for Chapter 5
- Draft the Summary of Findings
- Draft Implications for Practice
- Draft your Recommendations for Research
- Draft your Conclusions
- What is Needed
- What Happens During the Final Defense?
- What Happens After the Final Defense?
Stages of a Dissertation Topic 2: Overview of the Dissertation Process
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How to Build Dissertation Structure: Rules That'll Help You Succeed
Unless you know how to build dissertation structure properly, you won’t be able to complete this project successfully. It consists of 6 major chapters and other smaller aspects, and your total grade depends on what details you include and how insightful they are. Many students have no idea what their dissertation structure should look like, and this endangers their future degree. Some ask for professional dissertation writing help while others are determined to do everything on their own. Our guide will be a great helper: we’ll show you how to write a dissertation and explain what its structure should be.
Learning How to Structure a Dissertation: What Steps Should Be Included?
Whether you work by yourself or ask someone, “Would you help me write my dissertation ?”, the first thing you have to do is understand what your project even is. Dissertation is long, many-layered research students do for proving that they successfully learned everything about their subject and are ready for graduation as well as for earning their degree. In this guide, we’re going to address every stage you need to cover, from minor details of structure to actual chapters. After reading it, you won’t have any doubts such as what dissertation structure should include.
Start with the Title Page
Students should find out what academic style they need for their dissertation format and take a sample of a title page from their university. Generally, things like title, name of the author as well as supervisor, subject area, name of the educational establishment, and possibly a word count should be mentioned as a part of the structure. Proofread text carefully — any mistakes will stand out starkly since this is the first page your readers will see.
Mention People Who Helped You in Acknowledgements Page
What to include in a dissertation structure? Point out people who played their role in supporting you and your efforts during the months you spent working. This part is usually written after the whole project is complete. Don’t be overly formal here — after all, acknowledgements are for you and people who love you. At the same time, don’t overdo it. This is meant to be a short section with concise sentences. Most students write about their families, friends, supervisors, etc. — some even mention beloved pets who accompanied them during sleepless nights full of work and research.
Read also: Best place to get top-notch thesis help online.
Create Abstract or Executive Summary
This is one of those parts of a dissertation that students include in structure later, after they are done with chapters. It’s basically a short summary of an entire work that centers on key pillars of research as well as major findings. Describe a goal of your project, a methodology you chose, your insights and conclusions. Remember an important rule: abstract should provide enough relevant information to function independently from the rest of the text. If the committee reads it but not the entire dissertation structure, they should still understand what it’s about. How long should an abstract be ? The size of an abstract or executive summary differs depending on the final word count of dissertation, which is another reason why it’s better to write it last. In most cases, it’s about a page long.
Format Table of Contents
Table of contents is one of the most underestimated parts of structure of a dissertation. It’s tricky because if a student adds any changes later, page count is going to be messed up. It is important to pay attention to this section last and double- or even triple-check everything. If table of contents states that “Literature review” chapter starts on page 15 according to structure, then it should start just there. The text should look neat. You won’t lose many points if it doesn’t, but it could still produce a negative first impression among members of the committee.
Add a List of Figures and Tables
We suggest that you clarify this section with your supervisor in advance. Different universities have different rules about how to layout a dissertation. For example, some ask for tables and figures to be used as they are referenced in text, but plenty of others prefer for all figures to be placed together at the start of the project. This way, when a reader sees a cited table, they could just go back to the beginning and check what it says. Be careful here: check formatting and aesthetic appeal. Adding overly large or tiny figures is not a great idea. Everyone should be able to read them without making an effort. Watch out for page numbers because sometimes addition of tables distorts paper structure and moves the rest of the text.
List Abbreviations and Their Meaning
Every professional dissertation structure plan includes a list with abbreviations used in a paper. It’s not always needed, mind you: if your project doesn’t have many abbreviations or they are all ridiculously standard, you don’t have to make a list like this. But for scientific and technical-heavy dissertations, it is polite to explain what you’re talking about to readers. Use an abbreviation and decipher what it stands for. Again, this is the detail we suggest discussing with a supervisor because the rules are different across states and educational establishments.
Glossary plays a role similar to abbreviation list in any dissertation structure template. If your project has complex concepts that general audience wouldn’t know about, decipher them by providing a short explanation with their definition. Pick only truly difficult terms — don’t boost your word count by defining elementary and self-explanatory things.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Finally, we approached dissertation chapter structure. In general, there are six sections students need to write, each having its unique rules. Introduction is the start of everything. This is where you intrigue your audience and propose your hypothesis. The size of this part should be 10% from the whole content. As for which layers it should have, here they are:
- General background of the subject. Introduce the area of your future research. Use broad details and try to raise the interest of your interests. Swiftly but carefully, move on to the next paragraph.
- Narrow it down to your core topic. Start discussing the specific area you are going to explore. Be very particular, but don’t overwhelm your readers with details. There will be a separate time for it — right now, simply tease them with what you’ll be exploring in-depth later.
- State hypothesis with research questions. This is a crucial aspect that all dissertation chapters depend on. Think hard and formulate your hypothesis. It should be one very specific sentence that you’ll be investigating, and it must be accompanied by several related research questions. Your dissertation should answer them in the course of your paper. Imagine yourself as your own reader: would you understand the goal of a project by reading this one line? If not, refine it further. If yes, your job is done.
- Explain reasons for choosing it and underline existing limitations. What is so relevant about this topic? How well is it researched? If you picked it for dissertation, it means you don’t think there is enough material about it. Why is that? Mention the existing studies on the same subject and describe their scope. What new things will your project bring to the table?
- Outline your plan of actions. Describe a typical undergraduate dissertation structure. It’ll include all chapters, so just briefly state what you will discuss in each of them. Avoid personal pronouns and dedicate no more than one sentence to each description.
Chapter 2: Literature Review
This chapter is what makes a big number of students look for dissertation literature review writing services : they aren’t certain they are ready to handle a task that requires so much research. It’s true that you’ll be investing many efforts into it, but if you like your topic, you won’t mind. Here’s what you should do.
- Find credible sources about your subject. How to start writing a dissertation literature review? With reading! Access credible academic databases and start looking for sources. It could be journal articles (preferably with DOI number), academic books, government sites, etc. Sort through them via keywords, read their abstracts, and pick the ones that fit your project most. Then read them entirely. If they are still perfect, include them in your paper structure.
- Combine them into thematic groups. Which authors agree with each other and which ones don’t? More than that, what studies align with your vision, and which go against it? Structure these sources into different groups; prepare to use them in this order for enhancing the points you’ll be making later.
- Describe each source through synthesis. Present a group of articles you’ve selected. Use authors in relation to one another — this is a vital thing in literature review dissertation structure. For instance, “Jones (2018) claims that the results were inconclusive, but Francis (2020) disagrees with him.” Providing individual summaries would be a wrong choice because your purpose is to analyze, not just describe what you’ve read.
Chapter 3: Methodology
Time to share what methods you chose when structuring a dissertation and making an outline. Are you wondering what they include? Look at the helpful tips we prepared below.
- Pick between three methods: qualitative, quantitative, or experimental. There are some more of them available, but these are the major ones. Qualitative research means that an author is conducting their own interviews or surveys, working with primary data. The quantitative method is about secondary data: you analyze findings someone else made and base your project on them. The experimental design combines two: as a dissertation writer, you perform your personal original research while also heavily using other studies.
- Indicate where you looked for your data. This could include hospitals, libraries, archives, schools, etc.
- Provide details. Discuss what and where you researched, what sample group you used, and so on. Indicate tools you relied upon.
- Give justifications. Assure readers that you followed ethical guidelines when collecting info and talk about any issues you encountered.
Chapter 4: Results
At this part of layout of a dissertation structure, students state whether their hypothesis was confirmed or refuted. They describe what they found, focusing on each relevant piece of findings. Share research conclusions, statistics, and tables for helping readers better visualize what you’re discussing. Don’t delve into explanations — for now, concentrate on the presentation of your results.
Chapter 5: Discussion
At this stage, many begin to wonder, how should a dissertation be structured? The thing is, results and discussions often merge together. They count as one section, not two. On the other hand, many universities prefer when there are two chapters present, so clarify this with a professor who’s supervising you. In any case, the goal of this part is obvious from its name alone. You should discuss your findings here, providing explanations that were missing from the previous chapter. In addition, you have to talk about the implications. What do your results mean from a bigger perspective? What do they imply on a local level? Talk, talk, then talk some more. This is your chance to underline the relevance of your whole paper.
Chapter 6: Conclusion
As the closing part, this section plays a big role in shaping readers’ opinion. There are many conclusion dissertation layout examples, so Google them to see what makes them important. Here, you repeat major points and make the final impact on your audience. Show some objectivity. Acknowledge that everything wasn’t flawless and topic still needs research. Offer solutions and underline your professionalism by providing recommendations for other experts who might feel interested in the same subject. We also suggest telling readers about the changes that might take place if more work is done in this area. It could be inspiring, encouraging others to look at the situation through your eyes.
Format Your Reference List
Sometimes when people ask academic experts, “ Help write my essay ,” they do not need an entire essay — they want help with one or two parts in structure. A reference list is among most common requests. In it, students structure all sources they used in an appropriate formatting style. Usually, entries are situated in alphabetic order, and such things as the name of the author, publication date, title, collection, journal, or other medium are mentioned. It is not a difficult task, but it’s time-consuming and requires knowledge of mechanics that not everyone has patience for.
Create an Appendix as a Final Component of Dissertation Layout
Appendices are sections where students add things that didn’t fit into the main parts of their assignment. It could be interview transcripts, text from surveys, some extra pictures, etc. Not everyone adds an appendix in structure, but it is usually a good thing. It allows making your dissertation more complete and scientifically appealing.
Editing and Proofreading
Few students want to spend their time perfecting their dissertation structure. Edit dissertations is an important process, just like proofreading. It gives you a chance to remove all mistakes, improve the content, or rewrite parts that don’t sound right. Yes, it requires effort, but this is a way to refine your work and make sure you did everything you could with it. As a couple of tips: re-read it aloud or print a draft version. This way, mistakes become more visible. Asking others for assistance could also be a good idea, try “ fix my paper ” service.
Choose an Interesting Topic and Get to Love Your Dissertation
If you’re studying an interesting subject, then writing about it could be an exciting journey. You know how to start your dissertation now: follow the tips and enjoy research. If there are problems, you could always buy essay online cheap and let professionals handle them. There are many solutions, so just pick whichever works best for you!
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The Dissertation: Chapter Breakdown · Chapter I: Introduction · Chapter II: Review of Literature · Chapter III: Methodology (Research Design &
Overview: Structuring a dissertation or thesis · Chapter 1: Introduction · Chapter 2: Literature review · Chapter 3: Methodology · Chapter 4: Results · Chapter 5:
Dissertation Chapter One: Introduction to the Study · Dissertation Chapter Two: Literature Review · Dissertation Chapter Three: Research Methods
The table of contents lists all of your chapters, along with corresponding subheadings and page numbers. This gives your reader an overview of your structure
Chapter 2 · 1. The Abstract (5%) · 2. The Introduction (15%) · 3. The Literature Review (25%) · 4. The Methodology (15%) · 5. The Results (10%) · 6. The Discussion of
While each journey is unique the dissertation consists of three phases. The Proposal Phase consisting of Chapters 1, 2 and 3. IRB/Data Collection and Analysis
The discussion in some parts of the chapters will differ for quantitative and qualitative research studies. The research questions normally drive selection of
Chapter 1: Introduction · General background of the subject. Introduce the area of your future research. · Narrow it down to your core topic.
In Chapter 1, a compelling case should be made regarding the problem under investigation, the purpose of the study, and research questions to be investigated.
A common dissertation format is as follows: First Chapter: Introduction. Explain topic, goals, significance, thesis, theoretical framework. Following Chapters: