How to structure a dissertation

The structure of the dissertations is quite similar to that of the academic books. Additionally, they are also expected to deliver original research, which must have a scholarly quality, however, the meanings of original as well as scholarly might diverge according to the level and discipline. There are some dissertations which encompasses primary research like surveys, case-study, laboratory studies being carried out by author etc. On the other hand, there are some dissertations, which involve a sequential argument from which a conclusion can be drawn like for example, point by point assessment of an author’s work etc. Talking about the lower levels, dissertation mainly includes secondary research.

The basic dissertation structure

Almost all dissertations embrace one or more substantive chapters, an introduction and conclusion. Other than this, chapters can vary depending upon their level and discipline. Some of the chapters included commonly in almost every dissertation are discussed below:

The title page

The title page normally includes the name, identify of the student, department, dissertation title, degree level and date of submitting the document. However, if something is different required then the department of the student should provide instructions regarding the format of the title page.


Abstract is sometimes needed for higher level degrees. It is nothing but a short summary of about 250 to 750 words. It is generally required in almost every department, but if it is not required then it should be mentioned by the department. On the other side, if required, than its length and format must be specified.

The contents page

This page is generally being written after completion of the whole dissertations, though it comes at the front of the dissertation right after the title page. It contents the detailed list of all the chapters and headings being covered in the entire dissertations.


This is considered as the most significant part, as this helps the reader in explaining, what is the basic outline of undertaking the whole dissertation. This part also helps in situating the dissertation briefly in the wider field or in regards with the issues that are contemporary. In addition to this, it is vital for the researcher to end the introduction with a paragraph that leads the readers smoothly into the main body of the dissertation.


Research methodology is regarded as the most significant section of the whole dissertations. Its presence becomes mandatory in case, if the researcher has decided to conduct primary research and it is may not be required in the dissertations wherein theoretical subjects or secondary sources need to be researched. Further, the value of this chapter varies according to the discipline as well as the method being selected. Along with this, the research methodology section is also required to explain the reason as to why the particular methods are being selected. Other than thus, research ethics also needs to be discussed at this level. While undertaking the study, researcher might have come across with various problems and hurdles that limitations should be mentioned so that the reader can comprehend why some of the things are not included because of such limitations.

Literature review

Again this chapter becomes important in case of certain topics, literatures surveys as well as for the primary research. A literature review includes all the necessary materials and documents that are being researched and read by the researchers in order to fulfill the aims and objectives of the study. When a investigator does an in-depth study of various literatures related to the topic of the research study, numerous materials piles up. It becomes obligatory for the researcher to organize those materials and include the vital one in his or her dissertation. This section is generally written first. In case of theory dissertations and secondary research, the substantive chapters may engage in ongoing dialogue with the literature. In such a case, detached literature review is not that essential.

Substantive chapters

Throwing light on the main body of the dissertation, it is inclusive of sequential substantive chapters. The number of the chapters contrasts as per the length of the dissertation. However, the average number is from 3 to 5. The idea of the chapter structure is quite similar with the paragraphs of a dissertation, wherein each and every paragraph should deal with a diverse aspect of the dissertation. In addition, it should never lose sight of the central argument. Speaking in regards with the quantitative research, the chapters mainly includes the presentation of the research hypothesis and its operationalization, which is being followed by a presentation as well as interpreting the final results. In other research studies, it is quite common for each chapter to address numerous sub-topics within the overall central topic or argument. Thus, it can be said that the substantive chapters is considered as the main substance of the research study and it is significant to show careful use as well as elucidation of verification, commitment with and amendment of relevant theories in light of the researcher’s findings and analysis. Finally, it is also equally significant to obtain the style limitations from the department as soon as possible. There are many departments, which want their dissertation to be submitted in a particular format and style such as Oxford or Harvard referencing and APA referencing.


This chapter is the final part of the dissertation but it should not be left to be completed at the final moment. This is because of the fact that it needs to summarize the points being made in the argument. It also requires offering a synthesis of thought on the central thesis. The researcher also needs to determine all the possible limitations as well as gaps in the present dissertations and should attempt to pre-empt the objections as well as central arguments. He or she at this stage must be able to situate the findings in the broader literatures. The best conclusion is regarded as the one, which provide some hint about the future research area or topic that can be undertaken after discussing the present thesis. Finally, the conclusion chapter should open put certain areas, which have been bracketed in the main body of the thesis due to limited space or length.


The bibliography is required to be begun to compile the day the researcher’s has started to investigate the dissertation and it should not be left till the dissertation is successfully completed. In an ideal world, the bibliography needs to evolve as and when the dissertation moves forward. In other words, it can be said that it develops with the progress in the research study. Over again, it is important to take care about the style of referencing depending upon the format and style being provided by the respective department. It is worthwhile, if the researcher’s checks the dissertation after it is completely finished in order to ensure that no cited items are being missed out from the bibliography.


There are number of a dissertation, which needs appendices. It simple includes the additional information referred to within the dissertation, for example, maps, letters, charts, diagrams and photographs. It is generally required in the dissertations, which undertake primary research, as there the researcher is required to include the results of the surveys, interviews and case studies.


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