How to Structure a Dissertation
Well, it seems that you have successfully chosen a topic for your dissertation and received approval for your research proposal from your professor. It is now time to start your journey towards developing an impressive dissertation. This journey includes your research process as well as the dissertation writing process. Crafting a premium level dissertation requires you to have a clear understanding of how to structure a dissertation. Through this post, I will take you through the step-by-step process of writing the core contents of your dissertation.
It is good to note that I will be giving you the general layout of a dissertation that is used in most universities across the world. However, depending on the guidelines given by your institution, there may be some little variations to this structure especially when it comes to the order of the given chapters. Thus, it is advisable to consult with your supervisor about the exact structure that you should follow. Even if the structure given by your supervisor is slightly different from the one given in this post, you will still get some useful information that will be of great help in the preparation of your dissertation. Irrespective of the structure used, it is worth noting that the structure of a dissertation is a reflection of the entire research process.
An Overview of the Structure of a Dissertation
The general structure of a dissertation in the fields of sciences and humanities contains at least five chapters as follows:
Now that you have a glimpse of the basic structure of a dissertation, let’s delve deeper into the nitty-gritty of this structure.
This is the very first page of your dissertation which contains the title of your dissertation, your name and admission number, faculty (department), institution, degree program, name of your supervisor and date of submission. It is advisable that you follow your university’s guidelines on the formatting of your dissertation’s title page since most universities have strict guidelines on this.
This is an optional section which is usually used in appreciating everyone who assisted you in completing your dissertation. It is good to thank your supervisor and faculty members as well as individuals who helped you in the collection of your data and family and friends who gave you the moral support you needed to complete your research journey. Please, make this section as short as possible since it will not earn you any mark.
This section gives the reader an overview of the main items covered in your dissertation. Your abstract is a compressed version of your dissertation which contains brief details on your research questions/hypotheses, methodology, results and conclusions.
Table of Contents
This is the section that lists your chapters and sub-headings against their page numbers. Microsoft Word has made this section quite easy to make through its feature of automatic table of contents generator.
List of Figures
This contains all figures used in your dissertation. You can automatically create this list through Microsoft Word’s automatic feature.
List of Tables
This contains a list of all tables used in your dissertation. Use Microsoft Word’s automatic feature to develop this list.
List of Abbreviations
If your dissertation contains a lot of abbreviations, it is advisable to list them alphabetically in this section. This will give the reader easy access to the meanings of the abbreviations.
If your dissertation contains a lot of terms that are not quite familiar to your reader, it is useful to prepare a glossary. List all terms in alphabetical order and give a brief description of their meaning against each term.
Here, you start by introducing the topic of your dissertation then proceed to describe the significance of your study. Thereafter, inform the reader about the contents of your entire dissertation. You should also clearly state the objectives of your research as well as the research questions/hypotheses.
This section involves the thorough investigation and analysis of existing research relevant to your topic. It aims at drawing the link between your identified literature sources including gaps, themes and common patterns so as to arrive at a specific conclusion which is relevant to your research. This sections provides a basis for a theoretical or conceptual framework whereby you establish a relationship between concepts.
This is the section in which you explain to your reader how you conducted your research including the reason as to why you chose a particular design in doing your research. Basically, you provide details about the methods you used in collecting data, the place, time and population involved in the research, the methods of analyzing data, the tools and material used in our research and a detailed discussion of the challenges you encountered during your research including how you addressed them. In sum, this section is for proving to your reader that the methods you used were the best for addressing your research questions and aims.
After collecting all data relevant to your research topic, you report your results in this section. An easy way to ensure that you capture all your results is by ensuring that you report based on your hypotheses or sub-questions. Only include tables and figures if they give additional information to what you have written. The complete versions of your data like survey questionnaire samples and interview transcripts should be attached at the appendices section.
This is the section where you make meaning of your results by interpreting and relating them to your research questions. The way you go about your discussion highly depends on the type of methodology (including research design) you used in carrying out your research. Present a discussion of your results as they are without altering anything.
This is the last chapter of your dissertation. It is the place where you have to provide clear answers to your research questions or prove or disprove your hypotheses. It may sound a bit repetitive since most of the answers you have handled in the previous chapters, but it is crucial to wrap up your discussion and give conclusive answers to your topic of research.
You should also explain the implications of your findings. What are the exact contributions of your research to academia? What exactly is the new knowledge that your research has added to academia? You may also give some recommendations based on your findings.
The last paragraph of this section should be used in outlining the limitations of your research. This is the place to critique your work and specifically point out the weaknesses that your research might have. For instance, was your methodology appropriate? What about the sample size you used for the study?
To avoid committing the great academic crime of plagiarism, it is crucial to note down all sources of literature you cited inside your text in this section depending on the reference style required by your professor. The reference style in most cases depends on the department you are in. for instance, medical and nursing students may use AMA or APA style, psychology students mostly use APA style and languages students use MLA style. You should strictly adhere to the guidelines of the reference style that you have been directed to use.
This is the section where you should include any additional information that you could not put in the main sections of your dissertation. For instance, documents such as questionnaires, interview transcripts, consent forms and full tables and figures should be included in this section.
Now that we have gone through the entire dissertation process, it is my hope that you have gained a deeper insight into the detailed structure of a dissertation. If you still have any questions or comments, you are free to get in touch with us through the dialogue box provided below.