The History of Organizational Structure

by Devra Gartenstein

Published on 12 Jun 2019

As an organization grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to allow it to function organically with individuals and groups making decisions as they see fit. The history of organizational structure has been an evolution from small companies where not much management was needed to larger entities run with top-down systems to flat organizational approaches that value input from all levels.

Naturally, the rigid and simplistic approaches to organizational structure tend to run into trouble, and companies increasingly think in terms of finding a balance between authority and autonomy.

History of Organizational Behavior

Organizational structure, or the ways that power and information are shared and distributed in an organization, has its roots in organizational behavior, or the ways that people work together in a collaborative group. People have been organizing their efforts and working together for as long as there have been cultures and societies and long before a scholar thought to study and write about these processes and interactions.

It's hard to imagine that organizational behaviors themselves have changed significantly over time, although modern theorists have influenced organizational behavior by defining and studying different approaches to group processes. In turn, organizations seeking to improve have turned toward these theoretical models for guidance and direction.

Theorists of Organizational Behavior

History of Organizational Structure

In the United States, there was strong growth in the independent business sector after the Civil War. Like many startup business owners today, the entrepreneurs of this period just wanted to make their products and sell them rather than concerning themselves with the theory and mechanics of creating viable organizational structures.

However, as some of these small businesses evolved into larger entities, they found that they needed to impose some order and organization to streamline work, grow more efficient and make the most of their human resources.

Businesses began structuring themselves with different levels of management and hierarchies that placed rank-and-file workers at the bottom of the food chain. After World War II, however, many companies began discovering that they were more innovative and productive with flatter organizational structures that drew input from employees at all levels. Some companies erred on the side of too little structure, so many contemporary organizations are working to find an effective balance between management and worker autonomy.

History of Organizational Development

Organizational development is a field of organizational theory that started in the 1980s as a way to improve the odds of success for companies, especially those with flat organizational structures. This field focused on bringing out the best in human beings at all levels by focusing on values and ethics with an emphasis on working together toward shared goals and visions.

In 1996, leading professionals in the field developed a credo that expressed the objectives shared by theorists and practitioners, linking the personal growth of individuals within an organization to the overall well-being of the group as a whole.

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How to organise a history essay or dissertation

Research guide

Sachiko Kusukawa

There are many ways of writing history and no fixed formula for a 'good' essay or dissertation. Before you start, you may find it helpful to have a look at some sample dissertations and essays from the past: ask at the Whipple Library.

Some people have a clear idea already of what they are going to write about; others find it more difficult to choose or focus on a topic. It may be obvious, but it is worth pointing out that you should choose a topic you find interesting and engaging. Ask a potential supervisor for a list of appropriate readings, chase up any further sources that look interesting or promising from the footnotes, or seek further help. Try to define your topic as specifically as possible as soon as possible. Sometimes, it helps to formulate a question (in the spirit of a Tripos question), which could then be developed, refined, or re-formulated. A good topic should allow you to engage closely with a primary source (text, image, object, etc.) and develop a historiographical point – e.g. adding to, or qualifying historians' current debates or received opinion on the topic. Specific controversies (either historically or historiographically) are often a great place to start looking. Many dissertations and essays turn out to be overambitious in scope, but underambition is a rare defect!

Both essays and dissertations have an introduction and a conclusion . Between the introduction and the conclusion there is an argument or narrative (or mixture of argument and narrative).

An introduction introduces your topic, giving reasons why it is interesting and anticipating (in order) the steps of your argument. Hence many find that it is a good idea to write the introduction last. A conclusion summarises your arguments and claims. This is also the place to draw out the implications of your claims; and remember that it is often appropriate to indicate in your conclusion further profitable lines of research, inquiry, speculation, etc.

An argument or narrative should be coherent and presented in order. Divide your text into paragraphs which make clear points. Paragraphs should be ordered so that they are easy to follow. Always give reasons for your assertions and assessments: simply stating that something or somebody is right or wrong does not constitute an argument. When you describe or narrate an event, spell out why it is important for your overall argument. Put in chapter or section headings whenever you make a major new step in your argument of narrative.

It is a very good idea to include relevant pictures and diagrams . These should be captioned, and their relevance should be fully explained. If images are taken from a source, this should be included in the captions or list of illustrations.

The extent to which it is appropriate to use direct quotations varies according to topic and approach. Always make it clear why each quotation is pertinent to your argument. If you quote from non-English sources say if the translation is your own; if it isn't give the source. At least in the case of primary sources include the original in a note if it is your own translation, or if the precise details of wording are important. Check your quotations for accuracy. If there is archaic spelling make sure it isn't eliminated by a spell-check. Don't use words without knowing what they mean.

An essay or a dissertation has three components: the main text , the notes , and the bibliography .

The main text is where you put in the substance of your argument, and is meant to be longer than the notes. For quotes from elsewhere, up to about thirty words, use quotation marks ("...", or '...'). If you quote anything longer, it is better to indent the whole quotation without quotation marks.

Notes may either be at the bottom of the page (footnotes) or at the end of the main text, but before the bibliography (endnotes). Use notes for references and other supplementary material which does not constitute the substance of your argument. Whenever you quote directly from other works, you must give the exact reference in your notes. A reference means the exact location in a book or article which you have read , so that others can find it also – it should include author, title of the book, place and date of publication, page number. (There are many different ways to refer to scholarly works: see below.) . If you cite a primary source from a secondary source and you yourself have not read or checked the primary source, you must acknowledge the secondary source from which the citation was taken. Whenever you paraphrase material from somebody else's work, you must acknowledge that fact. There is no excuse for plagiarism. It is important to note that generous and full acknowledgement of the work of others does not undermine your originality.

Your bibliography must contain all the books and articles you have referred to (do not include works that you did not use). It lists works alphabetically by the last name of the author. There are different conventions to set out a bibliography, but at the very least a bibliographic entry should include for a book the last name and initials/first name of the author, the title of the book in italics or underlined, and the place, (publisher optional) and date of publication; or, for an article, the last name and initials/first name of the author, the title in inverted commas, and the name of the journal in italics or underlined, followed by volume number, date of publication, and page numbers. Names of editors of volumes of collected articles and names of translators should also be included, whenever applicable.

Alternatively, if you have many works to refer to, it may be easier to use an author-date system in notes, e.g.:

In this case your bibliography should also start with the author-date, e.g.:

This system has the advantage of making your foot- or endnotes shorter, and many choose it to save words (the bibliography is not included in the word limit). It is the system commonly used in scientific publications. Many feel however that something is historically amiss when you find in a footnote something like 'Plato [1996b]' or 'Locke [1975]'. In some fields of research there are standard systems of reference: you will find that this is the case if, for example, you write an essay/dissertation on classical history or philosophy of science. In such cases it is a good idea to take a standard secondary source as your model (e.g. in the case of classics, see G.E.R. Lloyd's The Revolutions of Wisdom: Studies in the Claims and Practices of Ancient Greek Science , Berkeley 1987).

Whatever system you decide to follow for your footnotes, what matters most is that the end-product is consistent.

Keep accurate records of all the relevant bibliographic information as you do your reading for your essay/dissertation. (If you don't you may waste days trying to trace references when you are close to submission deadlines.)

Consistency of style throughout the essay/dissertation is encouraged. There are many professional guides to thesis writing which give you more information on the style and format of theses – for example the MLS handbook (British) and the Chicago Manual of Style (American), both in the Whipple, and a booklet, H. Teitelbaum, How to Write a Thesis: A Guide to the Research Paper , 3rd ed., 126 pp., New York: Macmillan (& Arco), 1994 (in the UL: 1996.8.2620). But don't try to follow everything they say!

Every now and then you should read through a printout of your whole essay/dissertation, to ensure that your argument flows throughout the piece: otherwise there is a danger that your arguments become compartmentalised to the size of the screen. When reading drafts, ask yourself if it would be comprehensible to an intelligent reader who was not an expert on the specific topic.

It is imperative that you save your work on disk regularly – never be caught out without a back-up.

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Doing History in Public

How writing a history dissertation is killing ‘me’

By Ivi Fung

Being a historian carries a dual identity of researcher and writer. But a scholar writing History (with a capital H) does not always have the privilege of writing originally, creatively and experimentally. Creating a text as academics means conforming not only to the academic integrity and methodology in the discipline but also to a rigid writing style. The expectation is still there – the hype of fingers dancing on the keyboard after a long happy ride of research; the thrill of imagining how the readers would be surprised, entertained, or fall in love with your findings and the witticism between the lines. Maybe, you think, fellow scholars will be so defeated by your arguments that they write a review for you admitting how water-tight your logic is.

This does not happen when writing a history dissertation.  A history dissertation – or thesis, depending on the university and the course – is a text based on primary sources on a specific historical topic, that a history student needs to finish to obtain their degree. Technically speaking, it is a special genre of writing – a work of academic scholarship and an exercise for historians-to-be. The quality of the dissertation is judged according to the disciplinary discourse and critical consciousness of the History discipline. Dissertations are thus embodiment of the professional language and the conventions of history writing. A dissertation is not only a piece of research, but a showcase of the skills you acquired throughout your study and guidance of your supervisor, and is the student’s hardest attempt to step into the circle of professional historians.

As such, students inevitably write in a very rigid style and formal manner in order to aggressively fit into the established practices of the history discipline. Often, this amounts to checking the boxes in a simple ‘to-do list’–

The worst part is not checking all these boxes, however, but knowing that your year(s) of work will probably only be read by two or three markers, and the fear that all of your effort will be denied if you get a disappointing grade.

Don’t get me wrong – I learned a lot about locating historiographical issues and the pre-existing problems of interpretation of historical sources, as well as organizing and presenting history research, through making steady, measurable progress on my dissertation at Cambridge as a MPhil candidate. However, I often get frustrated by the rigidity of dissertation format and many of its unwritten rules: the desperate need to draw on existing scholarship and honor their findings deliberately; writing formal, almost pretentious text laden with buzz words to create sufficiently ‘academic’ prose. This all leads to a dreadful result – a writing piece that eliminates the writer’s voice itself.

What is more upsetting is the hierarchical pressure embedded in the academia between students and their supervisors. Unfortunate students even face the situation where their supervisors impose (or ‘strongly suggest’) their ideas on the students’ work. On the other hand, a contributor of a journal article stands on more equal footing with their editors, and have more space to negotiate. Speaking from personal experience, the editors are more likely to respect the writer’s choice of language, and writer has more ground to defend themselves. Sadly, in the process of drafting my dissertation and getting feedback from my supervisor, I feel like my presence and my literary personality in my piece of writing are being relinquished. Many dissertations I have read, with incredible history research value, also seem to miss the liveliness of an intriguing narrative and spicy arguments. Indeed, an engaging tone is less emphasized in a dissertation compared to an article or a book chapter, since the readers – as markers – are required to finish reading it.

In short, the dissertation is a genre that reflects the culture of scholarly disciplines. Being a history student working on a history dissertation, I find it a rewarding process as I piece the sources and arguments together within the methodology and discourse of History. However, the formality and the nature of dissertation is also eradicating my own writing style, my narration of my research journey, my voice, and my potential interactions with the readers. If you like, treat this article as a rant of an exhausted history student. Perhaps, though, it’s a chance for us to reflect the academic expectations about dissertations as a whole. 


Scrivener, Laurie. ‘An exploratory analysis of history students’ dissertation acknowledgments.’  The Journal of Academic Librarianship  35.3 (2009): 241-51.

Parry, Sharon. ‘Disciplinary discourse in doctoral theses.’  Higher Education  36.3 (1998): 273-99.

Beaufort, Anne, and John A. Williams. ‘WRITING HISTORY: Informed or Not by Genre Theory?’ in Anne Herrington and Charles Moran ed., Genre Across The Curriculum . Colorado: University Press of Colorado, 2005, 44–64.

Image Credit: Author’s own illustration.

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I can understand your frustration with the dissertation process. But it’s meant to be a demonstration of basic research techniques and process. There’s plenty of scope to break the rules, but first you need to know what they are.

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structure of a history dissertation

Good History Dissertations: some tips on writing-up

Are you nearly there yet? At this time of year many history undergrads are working on, or are close to completion of, their Final Year History Dissertation, and University libraries positively buzz with activity and intense concentration. Alternatively, many history dissertation students simply adopt the life of a hermit, shutting themselves off from ‘normal’ life and family and burying their heads in their laptops at home. It is one of the most challenging, but also potentially one of the most satisfying, parts of a history degree.

In many ways, an undergrad history dissertation is often seen as the cornerstone of a history degree or, to put it more colourfully, it is an opportunity for a history student to really bring into play all the varied and essential skills that have resulted from the previous two-three years of training and study. So… what makes for a good dissertation writing-up experience? What do you need to bear in mind as you near completion? Here are three brief last-minute tips.

structure of a history dissertation

In fact, whether you believe it or not, you have become an expert (hopefully!) on your chosen topic area, and probably know more about aspects of it than many other people. Don’t be afraid to blow your trumpet about this. Don’t be too meek. A bold, confident and firm language/style of writing can add considerable gravitas to your final draft.

Two: Structure: Remember, the precise structure of a history dissertation will vary markedly depending on your chosen topic and style of writing. But there are a few tired and tested essentials that should be on display in all dissertations, including in the Introduction, in the main part (the Chapters), and in the Conclusion.

For example:

Your Introduction:

The Main Body of your Dissertation:

Your Conclusion:

structure of a history dissertation

And Finally… Plan for afterwards: after all, you have worked very hard writing it all up, possibly the hardest you have ever worked on a single piece of writing. I bet your partner, or best friends, or close family members certainly think so! Reward yourself. Treat yourself. Take a bow. Make sure you have a plan to celebrate a job well done!

Steve Woodbridge is Lecturer in History at Kingston University

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History Dissertations: Top Tips for Students

structure of a history dissertation

We’ve finished our most recent dissertation cycle here at Northampton. The marking is done and the results have been released. It seems a useful time to reflect as I prepare meetings to discuss projects with students for next year.

We’ve had some great results, some fascinating dissertations, some of them first class. As the convenor of our dissertation module and a supervisor I have the pleasure of seeing individual projects through to completion as well as seeing the ‘whole picture.’ I’m the first to see the overall results which is very exciting!

Seeing students excel in their dissertations is among the most rewarding parts of my job. The dissertation is the culmination of their studies, where they test all the skills they have acquired and really think deeply about the subject in the context of a detailed research project. It is when they truly become ‘historians.’

Some of the results are publishable and some do get published and that is tremendously satisfying for us and the students.

Dissertation Image 5

Students also really enjoy the process overall. We are consistently told by students near the end of their studies (often at graduation) that it was their favourite experience at university. They get to focus on their specific interests, develop their own ideas.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that it isn’t hard work, difficult and stressful. Developing high quality research and making it worthy of good rewards is all of these things.

So here is a brief description of what a dissertation is and some tips for succeeding with the dissertation and having a good experience – some dissertation do’s and dont’s that we communicate to our students at the start of the process.

Every project is different and only you and your supervisor know precisely what you should be doing from one point to another but these guidelines generally apply to most dissertations. This is a longer blog than I usually write but there’s a lot to get through!

What is a Dissertation?

Dissertation Image 8

A history dissertation is a written study (Most universities specify around 10,000 words) of a specific historical topic/theme/person/event.

It forms a significant part of the third year of an undergraduate degree (many universities, including us, double weight them so they count for two modules).

It should be based around a series of primary sources (the volume and type depends on the project) and should include a comprehensive review of the existing historical literature (this is usually done in the introduction).

Dissertations are not ‘taught’ in the way that other modules are – they are individual projects supervised by academic members of staff.

We provide whole group guidance for our third years in four sessions across the academic year (some other institutions do this, some don’t). But in the main your experience will involve one-on-one supervisions.

A dissertation is not a long essay and it is not a source analysis.

Unlike essays the argument of the dissertation must be based around and driven by primary sources and the secondary sources (the books, articles etc) are used to contextualize and help you interpret the findings from the primary sources.

Unlike source analyses the sources must be used to build the overall argument – merely commenting on their content is not enough. Your footnotes in the main chapters should mainly be to your primary sources – this is why we call them ‘primary.’

Some universities (including ours) build in other assignments to the dissertation module (we have a Viva which forms 10% of the overall grade). These are important staging posts towards the final product. But the showpiece is always the written dissertation and that’s the piece of work you’ll have on your bookshelf after the deed is done.

Do’s and Don’ts

1. Choosing the Topic : Picking a topic is subject to a range of different factors: In short it must be interesting to you, feasible in the time (1 year) and space (10,000 words) you have, possible with regards to primary source material and worthy of study.

DO pick a topic you are interested in, DON’T pick something because it seems easy. You will be studying this topic for a whole year and it will be really tiresome if it’s something that doesn’t really interest you.

DO take time thinking about your topic and speak to your prospective supervisor in detail about this (probably in several different meetings). DO read around the subject. DON’T rush this – if you change your mind midway through the project it will almost definitely impact negatively on the outcome (are you listening Brexiteers?)

Ask yourself a series of questions. What period of history am I interested in? Am I a political, military, social, cultural or economic historian? What particular themes have I enjoyed on my modules, is there anything I particularly enjoyed (think of the assignments you have done).

There’s no problem starting with quite a broad topic then narrowing this down as you scope the project (see below).

But the topic needs to be worthy of study in the sense that there needs to be a rationale, it needs to be something that is of interest to others and some importance, not just interesting to you. In the introduction you’ll need to justify the topic, why are you studying it and what the importance of it is.

2. Scoping the topic : DO scope your project carefully before deciding on it and DON’T stick stubbornly to your beloved subject if it becomes clear it can’t be done.

Are the primary sources available and can you use them? If they are written in a foreign language will you be able to read them? Is there much more that can be said about the topic? Can the project be done in one year and can it be given sufficient justice in 10,000 words? – (a new history of the Second World War is probably not feasible, neither is a new history of the Industrial Revolution).

Dissertation Image 6

The final product will be only four times the length of this blog (we exclude footnotes and bibliography) so what at first seems a daunting volume of writing will soon become quite a restrictive format.

Work spent early on planning and researching the project (as opposed to researching the subject) will be some of the most valuable time you’ll spend on it.

3. Organising your work : DO start work early. DON’T leave it until the beginning of the third year. You’ll have a very busy and hectic final year anyway, so don’t make it even more stressful.

Make sure you start the project over the summer between the second and third year. Engage with any preparation modules in the second year – ours is called ‘Research Skills in History.’

Over the summer get some reading done, get to the archives and start thinking about a structure – very valuable time, especially if an unexpected personal or family issue means you have to take some time off in the third year.

You need to take a break from your studies, that is important, but there should be time for work too.

DO work consistently on the project at an even pace, DON’T work in ‘fits and starts.’  Try to work on the dissertation each week so you remain ‘in contact’ with the research.

Successful academic research requires us to create a space in our minds that is devoted to the project – it becomes part of us (not physically of course but that’s how it feels). A few weeks away will distance you from the project and you’ll need to spend several days (or more) ‘getting back into it.’

As academics with teaching and admin to take care of as well as research we’re all well aware of that. I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into my new project on the history of emotions over the summer.

4. Supervisions : DO go to meetings with your supervisor and DON’T ‘bury your head in the sand’. Missing meetings (often because targets have not been met or little work has been done) will annoy your supervisor and if you make a habit of doing this will leave you flying solo with the project.

Dissertation Image 7

Academics require years of training and experience to manage their own projects – the simple truth is students (undergrads and postgrads) need supervision because they lack that experience.

Make sure you pay attention in supervisions and take notes for future reference. Try to stick to any plans and timetables agreed – its best to be realistic when setting these. Above all be honest, supervisors can’t help if they don’t have the full picture.

5. The Reading : DO think about what you need from your reading. You need three main things:

1. The main debates and arguments in your topic area – these are generally found in the introductions of books and articles.

2. The wider context within which your topic sits – this means finding reading dealing more widely with your period and topic so DON’T merely read the small number of books on the history of shoemaking in nineteenth century Northampton if that is your subject. Read about be wider history of that industry and the wider economic history of Britain in that period.

3. Some background and factual details with some examples.

Dissertation Image

Often students focus on number 3 and neglect the first two. You’re expected to distill and synthesize this material for the literature review in the introduction and to contextualize and compare your findings from the primary sources in the main chapters. Think about this as you read and take notes.

This means the best way is always to read the literature and study the sources in tandem. DON’T do one first then the other. You want the primary and  secondary sources to have a productive conversation with each other.

More generally you should use your reading to familiarise yourself with your period/country/locale. As L. P. Hartley wisely said ‘The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there’:  L. P. Hartley ‘The Go-Betweens’ . You will be a traveler in that foreign place (be it nineteenth century Britain or early modern France etc) so equip yourself with knowledge about the language, culture, politics and habits of that place, even if you’re not a social or cultural historian.

We all know how disorientating it can be in a new place and even if you’ve made visits there before in your modules this will be a much longer and important trip. A good textbook is a wise investment for this purpose, ask your supervisor to recommend a ‘goodun’.

6. Analysing the primary sources : This will be the really fun stuff and is often fascinating and rewarding. DO spend time with your sources, get to know them well, understand their quirks and foibles. Your relationship with the sources should be deep and meaningful, not a brief flirtation. Dissertations require more than a ‘quick look’ at the source material.

It takes a lot of time to read and thoroughly analyse sources, even online ones or visual sources so DON’T under-estimate this in your planning. You’ll understand them more fully if you have a little bit of reading under your belt but you should get to the sources ASAP.

Take a look at this excerpt from an early eighteenth century manuscript letter. How long might it take you to get through a long series of this type of document? What kinds of knowledge and practical skills might you need to use these types of sources? Not all sources will involve the same kinds of skills and knowledge, but all of them will require decoding and careful analysis.

Dissertations Letter

More than anything else the best dissertations are often expressions of the deep knowledge that students have of their sources as windows on the period and area they are studying. If you find previously unstudied sources you stand a chance of finding something truly original but you might also find a novel way of interpreting well known sources.

7. The writing process : DO start writing early and DON’T leave this until the end. As soon as you have some ideas and some material from the sources get on with some writing and send it to your supervisor once drafted.

Start with an easier element of the project and this need not be the introduction (these are often best left until the end of the process). Dissertations need to be drafted, redrafted, redrafted again (possibly several times more) and copy edited before the final read through and submission.

Early writing will expose any weaknesses in the research plan, give you a good idea of what you can fit into 10,000 words, show you the gaps in your knowledge, gaps in your reading and any flaws in technical aspects of your writing remaining into the third year.

If you think that you work best under pressure with coursework, close to the deadlines, this won’t work for the dissertation. In any case you’ve probably not fulfilled your potential with the other coursework you’ve approached in this way.

8. Developing the argument : DO take time to really think about your project and the argument, DON’T rush to pull the trigger on this. What are the central debates and arguments in your topic area? What are the sources as a whole telling you about it?

Dissertation Image 4

This may be quite complex, a series of primary sources rarely give us a linear and simple narrative picture. Accept these nuances and acknowledge them.

What is the wider significance of your topic and findings? DO make the most of your work but DON’T be tempted to overstate the significance of your conclusions and simply dismiss all other research in your area.

Conclusions and arguments should be calibrated to the scope of the sources and the length of the study. Historical research is about building on the previous work done, not dismissing it all and starting again.

9. Staying calm : DON’T Panic and DO work through problems.

Dissertation Image 2

You will encounter problems, bumps in the road. This is inevitable in a project that lasts a whole year and involves so much work.

If you encounter a problem, either intellectual or practical, speak to your supervisor ASAP. They will have encountered this problem before and are best equipped to help you deal with it.

If you are suffering from stress and anxiety tell your supervisor, they may recommend that you see a counselor. There is no shame in this, its a stressful period in your life so access all the assistance you need to get through it.

The cycles of academic life are one of the things I love about the job – Seeing new students arrive, watching their knowledge and skills develop and seeing their work come to fruition in the dissertation and then graduate – it mirrors my own research cycle: Starting a research project, beginning the writing process, seeing the publication come to completion.

Dissertation 3

There’s a very pleasing symmetry to it all. I look forward, as ever, to next year’s dissertations. There will be frustrations but there’ll also be some fascinating work and, as ever, some real gems.

Good luck with your projects! Whatever the results don’t be too hard on yourself, if you gave it your best shot that’s all anyone can ask.

Mark Rothery, Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century History

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structure of a history dissertation

Rachel Grace Newman

Historian specializing in modern Mexico and Latin America

3 ways to write a history dissertation chapter

I wrote my first chapter last year while I was still doing research. I had my dissertation map all filled out, but it was a less-structured tip from a friend that helped me actually begin. She suggested that I think of an anecdote, moment, or event that was a window onto what I wanted the chapter as a whole to say. I could start writing by narrating that moment and then let the chapter develop from there.

I chose a moment and told the story, then drawing in other primary sources that I felt helped explain this original anecdote. I developed the structure as I added more and more primary sources. The first version of the chapter was long and very fun to write. But as you could guess, it didn’t have much of an argument: analytically, I didn’t know where I was going when I began writing.

I now had to figure out what the analytic through-line could be and weave that into the text. This meant lots of reorganizing and rewriting the introduction and conclusion. It was hard to incorporate a lens onto the evidence when I didn’t have it in mind when I first chose and wrote about the sources. But the benefit of starting this way? I broke the ice and enjoyed the first part of the writing process. As I’ve written more since then, it gets easier to see how to revise that chapter in the future.

By the time I was ready to start the second chapter, I decided that I wanted to have an argument before, not after, diving into close analysis of my primary sources. This time, I started by studying a concept that I wanted to use in the chapter. Then, I wrote a version of the chapter introduction, laying out for myself the chapter’s argument and structure. Only then did I start to work with my sources and add them in to the text.

As I read sources carefully, I realized that the argument wasn’t quite working. I changed the introduction and then went back to analyzing more sources. I ended up rewriting the introduction many times as the chapter grew longer. This was helpful to keep the balance between a) having a direction and a point and b) actually having evidence to make that point. But I felt frustrated about so much rewriting, and once again, I found it a challenge to settle on the structure of the chapter. On the other hand, I wrote the second chapter much faster than the first, and I felt more satisfied with the argument in the end.

I wanted to try something else for chapter 3. I’d realized that both of my entry points into chapters–working with analysis and argument, and working with evidence and narration–were essential for me to think through my ideas, but maybe I didn’t need to ask the earliest text I wrote to ultimately become part of the chapter.

To begin writing-for-thinking, I created two documents, one for analytic brainstorming, and one for what I called source narration–writing about my primary sources. For about a month, I added things to both documents. I wrote in full sentences, completely cited my sources, and organized the evidence into categories. But I didn’t expect any of the text I produced to  be  my chapter. I didn’t want to feel attached to the language or organization I used while I was thinking things through.

Only then did I begin to consider how to structure the chapter. It wasn’t how I had organized the sources in the source narration document, after all: it was a better structure that fit the argument I was honing in on. Then, I made an outline for the chapter that I actually followed.

I got to work writing the sections, using a different document for each section to encourage me to just focus on one part at a time. By this time, I was teaching, so having manageable chunks to tackle helped a lot as I juggled multiple responsibilities. As I wrote, I pulled in sentences and citations from the source narration document and avoided having to go back to the original. I didn’t often open the analytic brainstorming document, but that work influenced what I wrote in the actual chapter. Once I had written all the sections–first the body sections, then the chapter introduction and conclusion–I finally put them all together. I removed some redundancies, and added a few things that seemed to be missing as the whole coalesced from the parts.

The final revisions to the chapter involved adding in some more evidence and context, sharpening and modifying some arguments, and revising some of the analytic language. The revisions felt easier than what I’d done for chapters 1 and 2. I liked that this method first gave me time to process ideas and documents in an unstructured, low-stakes way, and then encouraged me to write at a faster pace with less rewriting. (Of course, it will get revised again down the line.)

After a few days of work on chapter 4, I seem to be trying some new and some old tricks for the next part of the dissertation. I’m not sure the approaches I’ve used progress from worst to best–maybe some topics, arguments, or moments in the writing process are better suited to some strategies than to others. As I’ve experimented, I’ve written in my journal–the research journal has become a writing journal–about what I’m doing and how I feel it’s working. I’ve also shared my work at different stages in Google Chat meetings with colleagues/friends, had conversations with committee members, and presented at public workshops. Both affirmation and criticism from my readers have helped me to figure out what to do next. Introspection and sharing have been key complementary activities to writing dissertation chapters no matter what strategy I use.

I don’t expect to ever settle on one way to write a chapter, and I think that doing something different each time has helped me to stay engaged through this long process.

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8 Tips on Structuring Your History Thesis

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So, you’ve finally made it to writing your dissertation? Congratulations! Now comes the hard part: planning and organizing your research. This can be even more difficult than doing an entire semester’s worth of work on the thesis in one go. Once you’ve done that initial research, you need to figure out how to structure it into a persuasive argument with academic merit.

Most college students are familiar with the thesis statement used in essays. But it’s not the same as writing a thesis. Your dissertation should be an argument that you can support with evidence from your research.

As such, the process of writing a history thesis can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. By hiring a professional writer from EssayHub , you can create a strong and cohesive argument that will impress your professor. Whatsmore, it will make the process a little less intimidating.

Here are some tips which should help you develop a well-structured and compelling argument.

Know Yourself, Know Your Topic

structure of a history dissertation

Don’t try to write the ‘definitive’ history of something before you know enough, at least in outline form, about what has been written on your topic. This means that you need to go beyond reading secondary sources and begin with primary source research.

This can even include archival research in the early stages of your studies if your topic is extensive or not very deep yet. In short, get yourself out from behind the library desk and see your topic from a wider angle than just bookshelves!

Establish Your Contribution

In the introduction of your thesis, you need to clarify the novelty of your research. How does it move forward existing historiography on this topic? If you had not written about this topic, would anyone be writing on it now?

Be Aware of Current Debates and Intersections Between Different Fields

Make sure that the wording in the early chapters conveys that some important literature exists both within history itself and outside it. For example, lots of international history draws on many sources, including social science methodology. So, know which side of the fence your contribution falls on!

Map Out the Structure of Your Argument

structure of a history dissertation

Decide how you will approach your primary source material and plan this in advance. For example:

Your argument will probably develop along the way, so get an outline of your main chapters and sections together before you start writing anything!

Structure the Introduction

Your thesis should begin with a clear introduction that explains your topic and sketches out your argument. It should not just be a summary of what happens in each chapter! You need to tell the reader why this research is interesting and relevant to existing historiography on the subject.

This is where you can ‘sell’ yourself by explaining how your background prepares you for researching this topic. For instance, you may be very familiar with primary sources in German because of past studies. Or you may consider aspects of your research that may be of interest to a non-specialist audience (e.g., policy or political history).

Arrange the Historical Chapters

Most history students will include some kind of chronological element in their thesis. Whether through the use of a thematic chapter structure within a specific time period(s) or by using ‘transitions’ between periods and themes so that they flow in and out of each other in an ordered fashion.

The best way to consider how your information should be presented chronologically is to look at examples from other history dissertations, which you can find on the internet via Google! Try writing brief summaries/synopses for three different structures before making your final decision. This will help you reflect on which way of organizing your material will make for the most cohesive argument.

Shape the Conclusion

Your conclusion should not simply summarize what has gone before but instead bring together (in some form) all of the different strands of evidence/argument which have developed in your thesis and place them within a wider historiographical context, outlining what other historians have written on this topic.

Where does your work fit into existing understandings? How do you see it developing further? This should be interesting to anyone who has read the whole thesis because it explains how each chapter relates to another. These links can helpfully be drawn up in advance as an outline or diagram so that they are easy to follow!

The importance of writing a clear conclusion cannot be stressed enough. Many students forget to do this, so their chapters each stand on their own. But a thesis should be written as a whole unit, not just in terms of information.

Create a Bibliography

Your bibliography will usually fall into two sections – primary and secondary sources – which are separated by a line with round brackets on either side.

Secondary sources might include historiography/theory or any other kind of ‘background’ reading relevant to your topic. For example, if you were writing about 20th-century German history from an international perspective, you might use this space to list publications on diplomacy and foreign affairs (e.g., Jarausch).

Primary sources should be listed chronologically, and often there is room for extra notes on the sources (e.g., if you think some are especially useful or relevant).

Are you struggling with how to structure your history thesis? You are not alone. Many students struggle with this issue. The good news is that there are ways to overcome it. You can look through writing services reviews on NoCramming to find a reliable writing service for your thesis. This way, you’re assured of crafting a masterpiece!

In order to write a successful history thesis, it is important to structure your argument in a clear, concise, and logical manner. Your thesis should present a specific argument and be backed up by evidence from scholarly sources. The more time and thought put into the process before starting to write, the easier it will be to get started with your paper.

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Issues in Graduate Education

Practical Advice for Writing Your Dissertation, Book, or Article

Liena Vayzman | Dec 1, 2006

You have a stack of research materials, a nebulous yet promising topic, and a looming deadline. Now, how do you actually write?

In my work as a dissertation coach and academic writing consultant, I am often asked for concrete strategies for writing. How to transform ideas into writing? How to finish that dissertation, book, or article? And how to stay motivated and sane during the writing process?

I have found that the best recipe for sustained intellectual productivity is a mix of structured writing practices, time management strategies, and holistic lifestyle support.

Here are eight practical strategies for focused, sustained writing—ways to create the space and structure to shepherd unarticulated ideas into a cogently written argument. While targeted at the dissertation writer, this advice can be used by graduate students drafting their proposal, junior faculty members rewriting the dissertation into a book, and scholars working on articles. Regardless of the type of project, healthy writing strategies—as opposed to staying-up-all-night marathons—are crucial. My hope is that these strategies also help advisers to support their PhD students through the nuts and bolts of the writing process.

1. Set up a writing schedule. Use a paper or electronic calendar to block out the times you will reserve specifically for this writing project. Treat each writing timeslot as an appointment with yourself. It is helpful to enforce strict start-and-stop times. Use a timer to break down your allocated two hours, for example, into three 40-minute writing sessions. Such short intense bursts of writing will be more productive than spreading your work over long unplanned days. (You write more in less time because you have allocated less time to work and thus must prioritize tasks and distill information. Think standardized test essay—you have 20 minutes: write!) If you are afflicted by writer's block, the problem could be trying to write at the wrong time for you—in the afternoon, for instance, when the body's biorhythms make energy wane. Try an hour first thing in the morning. The operative strategy here is shorter writing times coupled with commitment to a regular writing schedule. Over days and weeks, you will achieve momentum and a healthy addiction to the writing process.

2. Create a dedicated workspace. This space can be a library carrel, your department office, home office, café, or dining room table—wherever you find you write best. Call it your dissertation hut, article area, or book completion zone. If your current setup has too many distractions (TV, noise, unplanned visits from students) or is leading you to procrastination (opening mail, surfing the internet), radically change your workspace. Disable the internet. Leave the house. Clear out a fresh space in your office. Find a quieter café. Go to a corner of the library no one uses. My suggestion is to put in your workspace only the materials you need for this particular project. For some, this will mean a major cleaning up! Stash anything not related to the project at hand—such as teaching materials—in another area allocated for that purpose. You don't need stacks of ungraded papers on the same surface as your dissertation research. In effect, drawing on ritual theory, I suggest you consecrate a sacred space for the act of writing. The space and its function became inextricably entwined, focusing your attention.

3. Write daily in a dissertation journal. Keeping a daily (or regular) journal about your thoughts, questions, leads, frustrations, and challenges is invaluable. Generate ideas, try out organization methods, and process the writing experience in a text separate from the draft you are working on. Your journal can be a computer document, so that you can mine it for gems later, copying and pasting rough draft ideas in new documents to develop into drafts. Write in your journal for 20 minutes at the start of each allocated writing time. Do this even if you don't feel like it or think you don't have anything to say on that day. Allow yourself to type (or handwrite) uncensored, not caring about grammar, punctuation, and so on. This is zero draft writing, a way to dump your ideas to sift and shape later. Articulate inklings of ideas and explore ambivalence or fears about the dissertation process itself. Slowly, you can channel these journal writing sessions into focused freewriting on an aspect of your topic. Nobody simply sits down and writes an article or a chapter from start to finish. Brainstorming comes first, and daily journaling about your project is the structure you use to generate ideas you will organize later.

4. Distill your argument into a single sentence. What is your central thesis? Write it out in one sentence. This simple yet challenging writing assignment forces you to distill your many complex ideas into a single thesis statement. It may take you a minute or weeks, depending on where you are in the writing process. If this strategy seems either overwhelming or reductive, try filling in the blank: "What I hope to show in this chapter/article/dissertation/book is __________." Rewrite this sentence until the result yields a working thesis statement that accurately reflects your goals for the project. The next step is to figure out how to arrange your archival and secondary evidence to support this argument. Distilling your argument into a single sentence gives you a destination as you map the writing journey.

5. Visualize your ideas. To visualize the organization or structure of your argument, use "visual mapping." Rather than thinking strictly linearly, try diagramming your ideas in multiple directions as a way to generate ideas and make connections. To do this, take a big sheet of paper or wipe-off board—or go retro by using a blackboard if you can find one. Write the argument or topic idea in a circle, like the center of a wheel, then write related ideas in the spokes radiating outward. Add subspokes, connect ideas with lines, underline important points. Then challenge yourself to write out in linear form the ideas you have identified as a way to move toward an outline. Another way to visualize your ideas is to print out all your journaling and lay it out on a flat surface, then use different colored highlighters to identify shared idea clusters. These idea clusters can become topic sentences or bullet points in an outline as you experiment with ways to organize ideas.

6. Fuel your mind with exercise, nutrition, hydration, and sleep. Stress reduction strategies should be a priority during times of intense mental work. If you have a movement practice already—running, weight training at the gym, yoga—keep it up. Don't skimp on exercise when working toward a deadline. "No time" is never a good excuse for cutting out exercise. If you don't exercise, start. From a time management perspective, it's better to schedule exercise into your overall schedule than to overwork and lose entire days to stress or illness. Take regular walks with a friend, sign up for a yoga or tai chi class, train for a 5K. Mind/body practices with an element of meditation are particularly helpful to writers. Exercise boosts oxygen flow to the brain, reduces stresses, and increases alertness. During your work sessions, take breaks to rest your eyes and stretch your hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and back. If you can, take brisk 15-minute walks outside, using your eyes to focus on items in the distance to counteract the stress of focusing on the computer screen or text on a page. Similarly, fuel your mind with superior nutrition. Minimize white sugar, white flour products, and maximize whole grains, fresh vegetables, and high-quality protein. It's important to eat regularly, and to have a healthy breakfast daily. Bring snacks such as raw nuts and dried fruit to your workspace. Hydration is important; fatigue is often the sign of dehydration. Keep drinking water. Minimize your reliance on coffee and opt instead for green tea, fresh air, and exercise to create natural energy and a focused mind. Finally, a healthy sleeping schedule is key to clear thinking and high energy for intellectual pursuits. Avoid staying up late to write, and instead maintain a regular writing schedule.

7. Cultivate community. Talk out your ideas with others and solicit feedback regularly. Thinking is a social act. Too many academic writers work in isolation. Fight isolation by creating community: reach out to friends, colleagues, mentors, and support groups. Despite the myth of the lone-wolf academic, isolation is deadly to sustained intellectual productivity. Have other people read your work regularly, even (especially) at the early stages. Hire an editor or coach when you need one, request feedback from your mentors and peers, and ask others to read, proofread, edit, and/or comment on your work. To create community and accountability, join or initiate a writing group or dissertation support group. Balance time alone writing with social time with friends, e-mail exchanges with colleagues, participation in academic conferences, and other ways of talking about your writing and giving feedback to others on their projects.

8. Rewrite. Spend as much time rewriting, editing, and rethinking as you do drafting. Recognize that there is a difference between the drafting stage of writing and the rewriting/editing stage. You do not need to have correct grammar, perfect spelling, or even full sentences in the drafting phase. It's OK to write raw material at the start: at this stage, writing is thinking. It's messy, unformed, and rich with potential. Later, allocate time to edit your work, profiting from a time gap between drafting and revision and incorporating feedback you have received from readers. Allow ideas to emerge and concepts to connect. Cut verbiage, reorder paragraphs, and make sure each sentence moves your reader closer to understanding your argument. Knowing that you can revise your work later—as a concrete writing strategy in its own right—can allow your ideas to flow more freely in the initial stages.

—Liena Vayzman is a dissertation coach and academic writing consultant. She earned a PhD in history of art from Yale University in 2002 and has taught at the Rhode Island School of Design and the New School University. She writes "Ask The Dissertation Diva," an advice blog, at . She can be reached by e-mail addressed to [email protected] .

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What Is a Dissertation? | Guide, Examples, & Template

Structure of a Dissertation

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

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.

Dissertation examples

We’ve compiled a list of dissertation examples to help you get started.

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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:

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:

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:

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:

Read more about literature reviews

Theoretical framework

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:

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:

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:

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.

Checklist: Dissertation

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.

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