How to Structure a Dissertation

Five Methods:Presenting Your Literature ReviewExplaining Your MethodologyDeveloping Your Study and ResultsConcluding Your DissertationFormatting and Polishing Your Dissertation

Though the exact structure of your dissertation depends upon your field and on your department’s specific requirements, the overall structure of a dissertation is fairly standard. Typically, the beginning and the conclusion follow the same guidelines in nearly all fields. The body of the dissertation, however, contains variations from field to field. Review the basic structure of a dissertation, and get yours underway.

Method 1
Presenting Your Literature Review

  1. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 1
    Start your dissertation content with a short introduction. This introduction should present the scope of your research, while it also establishes the need for your research. It should expand upon the abstract’s summary. The introduction should include any context or background information that the reader needs in order to understand your research.
    • Writing the introduction after the rest of the content can sometimes be a good way of ensuring the introduction covers everything.[1]
  2. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 2
    Write the literature review. The literature review should be beneficial to both the layman and the expert. It should cover the literature related to your concept, link literature similar to your own, and demonstrate the issues related to your chosen research.
    • If your research improves upon or clarifies a specific flaw in previous research, be sure to highlight the importance of your original content.
    • The literature review should also pinpoint wherever previous research conflicts.[2]
  3. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 3
    Demonstrate why your dissertation has merit. A dissertation should be written because there is a knowledge gap of some kind in the industry. Explain how your dissertation fills the gap, and why the information is even needed. The dissertation should prove to be original. Given their respective experience, your advisors should be able to provide considerable guidance on the dissertation topic choice, and how to prevent a certain degree of redundancy.[3]
    • Consider if your dissertation really interests you. The work will take a considerable amount of time and losing interest will make research difficult.

Method 2
Explaining Your Methodology

  1. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 4
    Restate the purpose of your study. The purpose of the methodology section is to demonstrate the manner in which data was collected. As such, the majority of the following sections will fill in necessary details. The explanation does not have to be elaborate, but it should prepare the reader for the upcoming, detailed methodology.[4]
  2. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 5
    Describe any participants. If applicable, the description of any people who take part in your study should be extremely thorough. Each person should be identifiable within the research. Further, how people join and leave the study should be noted. If people were selected at random, or if they were family members, is important to the study.[5]
    • Be sure to consider various ethical concerns (e.g. risk and consent of participants) if people are involved in your research.[6]
  3. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 6
    Explain all tools related to measurement. If you have developed a new method of measurement, something like a survey or questionnaire, explicitly state every single detail about it. If an already established metric is being used, be sure to reference it where applicable. Once the tool(s) are noted, be sure to capture all pertinent information, such as the following:[7]
    • Describe the format of captured data.
    • Identify all scores obtained by the tools.
    • Note which techniques were used to administer the measurements.
  4. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 7
    Describe your research design. Break down all the details of how it will take place from beginning to end. Define all variables and all scenarios so that anyone wishing to do so could reproduce your procedures and entire study. [8]
    • Include potential reasons the research validity could be threatened. For instance, a study related to happiness could be affected by weather or a participant's family problem.
    • Breakdown the finite details so there are no holes if someone were to attempt duplication.

Method 3
Developing Your Study and Results

  1. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 8
    List the results of the research. It is not necessary to include all results discovered through the research. Only the most relevant to the dissertation’s scope and research are necessary. Do not interpret the research. If there are significant findings or data, that should be left for the later portion of the dissertation where everything is explained.[9]
    • Cross-reference text with pertinent visual aids (i.e. figures, graphs, tables).
  2. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 9
    Divide results into chapters. The dissertation should be organized so that chapters are focused on a specific question. The questions could be wide-ranging, based on a thought-process, an aspect of your methodology, or other issue related to the research. Be sure the chapters not only address t he questions, but answers them.[10]
  3. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 10
    Develop your argument. Once the research is done, the chapters should support a central idea you’re attempting to make. They should support what you are attempting to prove through your detailed research and methodology.[11] Help support your argument by avoiding debatable statements related to the chapter’s questions.[12] A few examples follow:
    • Debatable – Approximately 60% of the voters supported the referendum.
    • Non-debatable – Microprocessors are smaller today than they were 10 years ago.

Method 4
Concluding Your Dissertation

  1. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 11
    Conclude your dissertation. Present the importance of your findings within the context of your overall research. Without a solid conclusion, it could appear that the research is poorly conducted, or perhaps the author doesn’t understand the results of the dissertation.
    • Be sure to clarify how the conclusions relate to the questions posed prior to research and related results.[13]
  2. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 12
    Pose directions for further research. Inevitably, your research will not be perfect. As such, you should propose how to solve the flaws in future research. There could be unanticipated results upon which you could suggest related future research. There may also be anticipated results that didn’t materialize. You can suggest a more narrow focus of your research that someone in the future could follow to answer the unanswered question.[14]
  3. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 13
    Gauge the effectiveness of your dissertation. It’s important for the conclusion to also lay out the strengths and weaknesses of the research. Display where limitations exist, and why those limitations may affect the results. The purpose of focusing on limitations is to display the command you have over your research, why there may have been difficulties, how important the limitations are to your arguments, and justification for the choices made during your research.[15]
    • You know the limitations better than any. Be sure to clearly propose corrections to current limitations in future research.

Method 5
Formatting and Polishing Your Dissertation

  1. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 14
    Discuss your dissertation with your committee. Ultimately, the dissertation is structured how your advisor and committee decide. Ensure you understand what your field and your department require in a dissertation. You may also want to read approved dissertations from past students to gain a better understanding of how to structure a dissertation in your field.[16]
    • Find out if there is a word limit, and which parts of your dissertation (e.g. references, tables, abstract) are included in the word-count.
    • Determine which material should be included or excluded. There may be specifics on what is acceptable.
    • Ask which materials are less important in the committee’s opinion, and should be demoted from main content to appendices.
  2. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 15
    Create a title page. The title page may be specific to your university, maybe even your department or discipline. In general, however, it should be in all capital letters, with centered margins. Exclude page numbers, but the following attributes are usually a part of the dissertation title page:
    • The dissertation title is at the top.
    • The dissertation statement or purpose, which includes the degree for which the dissertation will be submitted, follows the title.
    • The name of the person submitting the dissertation, and the date of submission, are the final pieces.[17]
  3. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 16
    Construct your abstract. The abstract should summarize the dissertation and explain why the research is significant. Include your study’s background first. Next, breakdown both the methods and findings of the research. Finally, clearly explain all conclusions to the research. Each section should have enough words to provide sufficient information, but the overall length of the abstract should be no more than 350 words.[18]
    • Because the abstract needs to be a high-level summary, avoid using quotes or references in this section. The only exception is if you base your dissertation upon another’s work. In that situation, it’s appropriate to mention the work upon which yours rests.
    • One recommendation is to include a note or two devoted to each portion (e.g. introduction, methodology, conclusion) of the subsequent dissertation.[19]
  4. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 17
    Include acknowledgments after the abstract. On the page following the abstract, thank those who made your dissertation possible. Sometimes this section acknowledges only a handful of individuals; sometimes it’s more than a page long. From inspiring people to proof-readers, all manner of people can be thanked in whatever method desired.
    • The dissertation acknowledgements are not necessarily mandatory, but they provide a great opportunity for the writer to really thank those who have influenced and aided in the arduous dissertation process.[20]
  5. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 18
    Present a full table of contents. Following the acknowledgments, start the content page(s) on a new sheet. Include both the sections of your dissertation and its sub-sections. It should also include the acknowledgement page. [21]
    • Center the words TABLE OF CONTENTS at the top of the page.
    • Make sure you right align the page numbers.
  6. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 19
    Cite all of your references. Sometimes a bibliography is used, where all references, even those uncited, are listed.[22] There are multiple possible structures in which the sources can be cited. Be sure to clarify beforehand whether your references should be in APA, MLA, Harvard, or Chicago style.[23]
  7. Image titled Structure a Dissertation Step 20
    Finish with any appendices. The point of appendices is to include material that may not directly tie into your research, or information that has been referred to in the results of the dissertation. The appendices should be supplementary in nature, and not superfluous. Exceedingly large items like questionnaires and robust tables are perfect appendix inclusions.
    • Appendices aren’t typically included in word counts. Be sure to ask the committee or your advisor to clarify.[24]

Sources and Citations

Show more... (21)

Article Info

Categories: Research and Review