How to Structure a Dissertation or Thesis
Published byat August 11th, 2021 , Revised On October 22, 2021
A dissertation or a thesis is a long piece of academic writing based on comprehensive research.
A milestone, no matter what your academic subject and academic level are, a dissertation must be submitted by Master’s and PhD students to pass their degree program. On the other hand, undergraduate students may or may not be required to write a dissertation paper.
This generally depends on the requirements of their school. Here is all you need to know about how to structure a dissertation or thesis.
A dissertation is regarded as the most significant form of writing in academia. It is perhaps the longest piece of academic writing you will ever have to complete.
If you are unsure about how to structure your dissertation or thesis, then this article will serve as guidelines to help you work out exactly what are the most important segments of a dissertation paper and what or what not to include in it.
Also Read: How to write a dissertation – step by step guide.
How to Structure a Dissertation or Thesis
It should be noted that the exact structure of your dissertation will depend on several factors, including the chosen research approach, research title, and academic discipline. If you are a humanities student, you will need to develop your dissertation on the same pattern as any long essay.
This will including developing an overall argument to support the thesis statement and organizing chapters around theories or questions.
However, if you are basing your dissertation on primary or empirical research, you will be required to include each of the below components. In most cases, each of the below elements will have to be written as a separate chapter.
But depending on the word count limitation and academic subject, you may choose to combine some of these elements.
For example, sciences and engineering students often present results and discussions together in one chapter rather than two different chapters.
If you have any doubts about structuring your dissertation or thesis, it will make sense to consult with your academic supervisor and check your department’s rules.
Your dissertation will start with a Title page that will contain details of the author/researcher, research topic, degree program (the paper is to be submitted for), and research supervisor.
The name of your university, logo, student number, and submission date can also be presented on the title page. Many academic programs have stringent rules for formatting the dissertation title page.
The acknowledgments section allows you to thank those who helped you with your dissertation project. You might want to mention the names of your academic supervisor, family members, friends, God, and participants in your study whose contribution and support enabled you to complete your work. However, the acknowledgments section is usually optional.no number, and submission date can also be presented on the title page. Many academic programs have stringent rules for formatting the dissertation title page.
Depending on your area of study, you will be asked to provide an abstract or executive summary of your research study. This usually provides you with the opportunity to write a digest or a summary of your paper. The abstract or executive summary section should introduce the topic of discussion and research problem you aim to address before providing brief information about research methodology, key findings and conclusion.
Table of Contents
Table of contents is the section of a dissertation that guides each section of the dissertation paper’s contents. Depending on the level of detail in a table of contents, the most useful headings are listed to provide the reader concerning page the said information may be found at.
Table of contents can be auto-inserted using the Microsoft Word table of contents of the feature.
List of Figures and Tables
If your dissertation paper uses several illustrations, tables and figures, then you might want to present them in a numbered list in a separate section. Again, this list of tables and figures can be auto-created and auto inserted using the Microsoft Word built-in feature.
List of Abbreviations
Dissertations that include several abbreviations can also have an independent and separate alphabetised list of abbreviations so the audience can easily figure out their meanings.
If you think you have used terms and phrases in your dissertation that readers might not be familiar with, you can create a glossary that lists important phrases and terms with their meanings explained.
Introduction chapter briefly introduces the purpose and relevance of your research topic.
Here you will be expected to list the aim and key objectives of research so your readers can easily understand what the following chapters of the dissertation will cover. A good dissertation introduction section incorporates the following information;
- It provides background information to give context to your research.
- Clearly specify the research problem you wish to address with your research. When creating research questions, it is important to make sure your research’s focus and scope are neither too broad nor too narrow.
- Demonstrating how your research is relevant and how it would contribute to the existing knowledge.
- Provide an overview of the structure of your dissertation
All information presented under this section should be relevant, clear, and engaging. The readers should figure out what, why, when, and how of your study once they have read the introduction. Here are comprehensive guidelines on how to structure the introduction to the dissertation.
Literature Review and Theoretical Framework
The literature review chapter presents previous research performed on the topic and improves your understanding of the existing literature on your chosen topic. This is usually organized to compliment your primary research work completed at a later stage.
Make sure that your chosen academic sources are authentic and up to date. The Literature Review chapter must be comprehensive in nature and address the aims and objectives as defined in the Introduction chapter. Here is what your literature research chapter should aim to achieve;
- Data collection from authentic and relevant academic sources such as books, journal articles and research paper
- Analytical assessment of the information collected from those sources
- Identifying key research gaps, conflicts, patterns, and theories to get your point across to the reader effectively.
While your literature review should summarise previous literature, it is equally important to make sure that you develop a comprehensible argument or structure to justify your research topic. It would help if you considered keeping the following questions in mind when writing the literature review;
- How your research work fills a certain gap in exiting literature?
- Did you adopt a new research approach to investigate the topic?
- Does your research solve an unresolved problem?
- Is your research taking forward an existing theoretical discussion?
- Does your research strengths and builds on current knowledge within your area of study?
In most cases, your theoretical framework will be developed out of the literature review. In the theoretical framework, you will be expected to define and evaluate relevant models, ideas and theories that will put the puzzle pieces together.
The methods and techniques (secondary and/or primary) employed to collect the research data are discussed in detail in the Methodology chapter. The most commonly used primary data collection methods include questionnaires, interviews, surveys, focus groups, observation, etc.
Essentially, the methodology chapter allows the researcher to explain how he/she achieved the findings, why they are reliable, and how they helped him/her test the research hypotheses or address the research problem.
You might want to consider the following when writing methodology for the dissertation;
- Type of research and approach your work is based on. Some of the most widely used types of research include experimental, quantitative, and qualitative.
- Data collection techniques employed such as questionnaires, surveys, focus groups, observation etc.
- Details of how, when, where, and what for the research was conducted?
- Data analysis strategies employed (regression analysis etc.)
- Software and tools used for data analysis (Excel, STATA, SPSS, lab equipment, etc.)
- Research limitations to highlight any hurdles you had to overcome when carrying our research
- Justification of your selection of research approach and research methodology
Here is a comprehensive article on how to structure a dissertation methodology.
In the next section, you present your research findings. The dissertation findings chapter is built around the research questions, as outlined in the introduction chapter. Report findings that are directly relevant to your research questions.
Any information that is not directly relevant to research questions or hypothesis but could be useful for the readers can be placed under the Appendixes.
As indicated above, you can either develop a standalone chapter to present your findings or combine them with the discussion chapter. This choice depends on the type of research involved and the academic subject.
For example, it is common to have both findings and discussion grouped under the same section, particularly if the dissertation is based on qualitative research data.
On the other hand, dissertations that use quantitative or experimental data should present findings and analysis/discussion in two separate chapters. Here are some sample dissertations to help you figure out the best structure for your own project.
The findings are followed by the Discussion chapter, which is considered the heart of any dissertation paper. The discussion section is an opportunity for you to tie the knots together to address the research questions and present arguments, models and key themes.
Discussion chapter does not require any new data or information, because it is more about the interpretation/meaning of the data you have already collected and presented. Here are some questions for you to think over when writing the discussion chapter;
- Did your work answer all the research questions or test the hypothesis?
- Did you come up with some unexpected results for which you have to provide an additional explanation or justification?
- Are there any limitations that could have influenced your research findings?
Here is an article on how to structure a dissertation discussion.
Conclusions corresponding to each research objective are provided in the Conclusion section. This is usually done by revisiting the research questions to close the dissertation loop finally. Some universities may specifically ask for Recommendations to evaluate your critical thinking.
By the end, the readers should have a clear apprehension of your fundamental case with a focus on what methods of research were employed and what you achieved from this research.
Does the conclusion chapter reflect on the contributions your research work will make to existing knowledge?
All academic sources that you collected information from should be cited in-text and also presented in a reference list (also known as a bibliography), so the readers can easily locate the source of information when/if needed.
At most UK universities, Harvard referencing is the recommended style of referencing, and it has strict and specific requirements on how to format a reference resource. Other common styles of referencing include MLA, APA, Footnotes, etc.
Each chapter of the dissertation should have relevant information. Any information that is not directly relevant to your research topic but your readers might be interested in (interview transcripts etc.) should be moved under the Appendixes section.
How Can We Help You With Your Dissertation?
If you are still unsure about how to structure a dissertation or thesis or lack the motivation to kick start your dissertation project, then you might be interested in our dissertation services.
Whether you need help with individual chapters, proposals, or the full dissertation paper, we have PhD qualified writers who will write your paper to the highest academic standard. Research Prospect is UK based, and a UK registered business, which means the UK consumer law protects all our clients.
FAQs About Structure a Dissertation
The title page will contain details of the author/researcher, research topic, degree program (the paper is to be submitted for), and research supervisor. The name of your university, logo, student number and submission date can also be presented on the title page.
The acknowledgements section allows you to thank those who helped you with your dissertation project. You might want to mention the names of your academic supervisor, family members, friends, God, and participants in your study whose contribution and support enabled you to complete your work.
Yes, but only if you think that your paper does not contain any terms or phrases that the reader might not understand. But If you think you have used them in the paper, you must create a glossary that lists important phrases and terms with their meanings explained.
You can use any of the referencing styles such as APA, MLA, and Harvard, according to the recommendation of your university; however, almost all UK universities prefer Harvard referencing style.
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Your dissertation introduction chapter provides detailed information on the research problem, significance of research, and research aim & objectives.