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How to Perfectly Prepare a Dissertation Structure Step-by-Step

September 02, 2021

When students are facing the task of writing their thesis, learning proper dissertation structure is one of the first steps they should make. Why? Because a thesis is a significant academic document that needs to be written according to set rules and regulations. This guide will teach you about a proper structure of a dissertation and elements and sections you have to include.

How to Structure a Dissertation or Thesis

Theses could easily be classified as the most important writing assignment students face during their entire college education. It’s the final step they should make before receiving their degree and officially graduating. A research they conduct and findings they present represent their academic potential and show their professors just how worthy and knowledgeable they are. 

But, when the time comes, most students struggle with a question of how to start writing a dissertation and what kind of a thesis writing plan to create. This is because they lack experience in this field and have never faced such a significant writing task before. We recommend they start from the structure.

Thus, every student needs to know how should a dissertation be structured to even start thinking about how to do a dissertation.

University rules may slightly differ when it comes to dissertation structure, but those are usually minor differences from one college to another. In most cases, all dissertations follow the same set structure and need to incorporate the same key sections and chapters. 

Luckily, we’ve prepared a dissertation structure guide that will show you a proper layout of a dissertation and teach you about writing it stepwise.

Here’s what you need to add in your thesis and in what order.

Title Page

The first step you have to make when you plan how to start your dissertation is the Title page. It’s the first thing your dissertation committee will look through before reading your entire thesis, and a great chance for you to make a good first impression.

Research rules your university imposes for a title page, to see if they have any specific requirements. If there are no specific requests, you need to include following components:

  • A title of your thesis
  • Your name
  • Name of your mentor or supervisor
  • Your academic institution and department
  • Date
  • Degree name that a dissertation is written for 

Put all of these elements together and neatly organize them to make a title page look like a book cover. Place your title in the center middle of the page and organize other elements around it. Make it all fit a single page.

Acknowledgments Page

Acknowledgments page is not among obligatory parts of a dissertation. But, it's common academic practice for a student to say thanks to people who've helped them in their academic journey and have contributed in any way to them successfully writing their thesis.

It should be brief and concise, and shouldn’t go into too many details. Most students decide to thank:

  • Their mentors and supervisors
  • Professors they appreciate
  • A dissertation committee
  • Academics, lecturers, and scholars
  • Friends and family

Decide who you want to thank and write a short Acknowledgments page, to watch your dissertation length.

Abstract or Executive Summary

The next in line of our dissertation chapters is Abstract, also known as an executive summary. Although it’s placed at the beginning of the dissertation, you’re going to write this section last. This is because you can’t summarize a thesis that hasn’t yet been written.

So, you’ll only write your abstract once you complete writing the rest of a dissertation and once you have the full picture. 

The abstract is supposed to summarize all key elements of your dissertation and present a reader a broad idea of your project. You’ll have to summarize following elements of your thesis:

  • The main topic of your research
  • Your research aims and objectives
  • The methodology you used 
  • The findings you made
  • The conclusion

But remember, an abstract should be one page long and not go into any details since the rest of the dissertation will. You could get dissertation writing help if you’re not sure what to add in an abstract, or simply look at some dissertation layout examples and pay attention to abstracts.

Table of Contents

Your table of contents should be created in the final stage of structuring a dissertation, once you have completed writing all other parts of your dissertation. You should use tools within your writing tool that automatically generate tables of content for your thesis.

You should  include all chapters and sections of the dissertation, along with page numbers. Choose an appropriate level of depth to decide which headings and subheadings to include.

List of Figures and Tables

The next section to add in your dissertation structure plan is Figures and Tables section. To present your research as well as show your results and findings, you should use visual elements such as figures and tables. 

Each figure and table should be numbered and labeled with a title e.g. “Table 13: Presentation of examinees’ answers to question 6”.

Then, after you finish creating all tables and figures, generate a list that will provide a reader with insight into all of them, including page numbers where they may find them.

List of Abbreviations

Some students tend to use a lot of abbreviations in their thesis writing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’re one of those students, you’ll need to remember it when thinking about what to include in a dissertation. 

Your list of abbreviations should be simple and include:

  • Abbreviations on one side
  • Explanation of abbreviations on the other side

It would be best if you would list abbreviations as you use them, instead of writing the whole dissertation and going through all chapters to detect abbreviations. So, remember this practice from the moment you decide how to start your dissertation.

Glossary

When you're writing your dissertation, you should always treat your readers as non-experts and try to write it so that everyone can understand it. So, if your thesis contains a lot of technical vocabulary, specialized terms, and potentially unknown terminology, you should create a dissertation glossary of what to include in a dissertation.

The glossary is supposed to:

  • List all of these terms
  • Explain them
  • Provide a definition for each

This way, if the reader gets confused, they might find an explanation within your paper.

The Core Chapters of Your Dissertation Layout

Finally, technical parts of your postgraduate or undergraduate dissertation structure are behind you. 
Now, you get to focus on core chapters of your dissertation as well as get to the actual dissertation writing process. This is where things get serious, and some students begin to think, “Can someone do my dissertation for me?”. But, everything’s easy with the right guidance.

It's quite similar to the dissertation proposal format that you’ll also should learn about when trying to get your topic approved. So, here’s the core dissertation chapter structure you should follow, along with main points to add in each one.

Chapter 1: Introduction

The introduction section is supposed to slowly introduce a reader to your research topic, and provide insight into what the reader can expect from the rest of the dissertation. The introduction should present:

  • The main topic and idea
  • The reason why you chose this topic
  • How your research contributes to academic world
  • What are questions, aims, and objectives of your research
  • What methodology is used in your research, why, and how
  • What is the structure of your thesis, and what is presented in each of the following chapters

So, the Introduction chapter summarizes the entire dissertation and gives a reader a quick tour of what you’ve included in it.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Your dissertation needs to be based on facts, credible resources, and other academic findings. You can’t just write it based on your beliefs or assumptions. That means you’ll be using different literary sources to back up your thesis and make it credible. 

The sources should be dependable and embrace academic papers, other dissertations, books, articles, case studies, etc. Your literature review dissertation structure needs to be well-organized and systematically present all the sources you have used.

You will cite these authors to explain complex notions, share their ideas, and place your topic into a context. The important thing is you apply the right citation style and properly state whose words you’re using. Most commonly, students use APA citation dissertation style, but your college may suggest differently.

Chapter 3: Methodology

If you look at any dissertation structure template, you’ll see a Methodology chapter as an inevitable part of each one. Methods you use to answer your thesis questions and achieve your goals and objectives have to be explained and clearly presented in this chapter. 

That means you will have to explain the following:

  • What type of a methodology did you apply (empirical or theoretical)
  • What tools did you use to conduct the research (surveys, questionnaires, observation…)
  • Why did you choose these methods
  • How did you apply these methods

If you find this to be too difficult for you to write and explain, there are writing services that write papers for money online that could help you with this or any other section of your dissertation.

Chapter 4: Results

The next chapter is crucial for the success of your dissertation. Results chapter will be presenting results of your research but also explaining to a reader what you've discovered.

This section will embrace:

  • The data you’ve gathered
  • The analysis of that data
  • The presentation of your findings through figures, tables, and charts
  • The explanations and answers to questions you’ve previously raised

You should be objective and only draw conclusions based on the data and facts you’ve collected.

Chapter 5: Discussion

Once your research is over, and you've got results, you need to reflect on how the research went and what did you achieve with it. In other words, you'll discuss the following:

  • What do these results mean?
  • Can they be used for further research?
  • Did they answer questions and why does that matter?
  • What are implications?
  • Are there any limitations?

Show how your research fits the bigger picture.

Chapter 6: Conclusion

The final chapter of your dissertation is the Conclusion chapter. You’ll use it to make one final revision of everything you’ve done and achieved in your work. The conclusion section will once again take a look at questions that were raised, arguments that were made, and results that were achieved.

Its aim is to summarize your research and help the reader process all the information properly.

Reference List

No matter what dissertation format you’ve followed or what your college required that you do, a Reference List is another obligatory section you have to add. This is a list of all sources you’ve cited while writing your dissertation, that you know have to acknowledge.

You should create this list as you write your thesis, adding each new reference as you use it. Choose the appropriate citation style, and generate a reference list of all resources you've used.

Appendix

Most students leverage additional documents and tools to conduct their research. Those encompass questionnaires, survey questions, materials distributed to those surveyed, transcripts, etc.

This is what you should include in the Appendix section, to show the reader how you’ve conducted your research and what specific materials were used in the process.

Editing and Proofreading

Once your dissertation structure is finished and you've done all the writing, you'll have to edit and proofread your thesis. You could do it on your own, or ask for help from a fellow student or some online tools and resources.

If you google “proofread my paper” you’ll find writing services or grammar and spell checkers that can make this task easier for you. 

Only once you’ve read your dissertation several times, made content changes, and removed all of the mistakes, you might submit it to the committee for revision.

Dissertation Structure: Know How to Do It

Topic selection, research, collecting the literature, and writing the content are all extremely important for your dissertation writing process. But, if you don’t know how to layout a dissertation, you can’t even think about any of those steps. So, you first have to learn about proper thesis structure and then get to work.

This guide is everything you should know about proper dissertation structure and the elements to add in yours. Use it to start working on your dissertation with confidence.