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How to Structure a Dissertation?

Date published January 05 2021 by Mantaha Qureshi

Based on lots and lots of research, a dissertation or thesis is a long research paper. It is a piece of academic writing that can comprise of original research or research based off of someone else’s work, depending on your degree. You will have to submit it at undergraduate, postgraduate and doctorate level too. While previously, it was necessary at doctorate level only, now most of the institutes all over the world have made it compulsory. As such, it only makes sense that students at all levels remain aware of the essentials of a dissertation. Here we tell you how to structure a dissertation in the best manner possible.

Table of Contents

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Understanding the Differences According to the Academic Level

As we have stated in the beginning, a dissertation varies according to the academic level. Herein the table below, you can see the differences laid out in a summarised form.

Academic Level Word Count Methods of Research What Should The Topic Do?
Undergraduate 5,000-8,000 words Primary Sources Fill previous research gaps
Graduate 10,000-15,000 words Primary and Secondary Sources Fill previous research gaps & have some significance
Doctorate 50,000-100,000 words Primary and Secondary Sources Fill previous research gaps & add something new to the academic community

What Goes in a Dissertation?

Moving ahead, we will discuss the essentials of a dissertation. These cover the main chapters as well as the small components, normally present in a dissertation.

      Title Page

This is the first page of a dissertation and includes the:

  • Title of dissertation
  • Name of student
  • Department
  • Name of institution
  • Name of degree
  • Date of submission
  • Student’s roll number
  • Supervisor’s name
  • Logo of university

The details may vary according to the requirements of the university.


An optional section, Acknowledgements are where you can thank all those who directly or indirectly provided support in the research process. This can include your parents, supervisors, participants, lab faculties etc.


The Abstract is a short summary of the dissertation, spanning between 150 and 300 words. While it comes initially, you write it in the very end when you are finalising your dissertation. It is necessary to make an engaging abstract that compels the reader to be intrigued and read the rest of the dissertation with interest.

      Table of Contents

The Table of Contents helps in navigating through the dissertation with ease. Include all the parts in it along with their respective page numbers. Word processors like Microsoft Word come with options where you can apply heading styles and create a Table of Contents easily.

      List of Figures and Tables

Create a numbered List of Figures and Tables if there are many tables and figures in your dissertation. Microsoft Word comes with an ‘Insert Caption’ that you can use for generating such lists.

      List of Abbreviations

Include a List of Abbreviations for listing down all the abbreviations in an alphabetised manner.


Include a Glossary if you have used many specialised terms that your reader might not be familiar with.


The first chapter of your dissertation, the Introduction includes the:

  • Background of the research topic
  • Narrowing down and defining the scope of the research
  • Discussing the state of existing research on the topic
  • Listing down the research questions and objectives

Be sure to cover the ‘how, what and why’ of your research in this chapter.

      Literature Review / Theoretical Framework

Done before the start of the dissertation, the Literature Review is where you collect your sources, critically evaluate those sources and draw connections between them to create a point. This is for addressing gaps in the literature and proposing solutions to unresolved problems.


In the Methodology chapter, you detail your list of methodologies such as primary sources and secondary sources including the types of researches such as qualitative, quantitative, experimental and ethnographic.


Your Results are structured around themes, sub-questions and hypotheses. This section is different from the Discussions but can be combined depending on the dissertation.


Discussion is where you explore the implications and meaning of your research and whether or not the research was able contribute to the community properly. The results are interpreted in detail and refers back to the sources as well.


The Conclusion chapter answers the main research questions and the significant contributions it has made. It is also where you wrap up your discussion and state the overall conclusions.

      Reference List

Cite down all the sources you took information from in the Reference List, in the recommended style, whether it is APA, MLA or any other format. Many online tools are available that can help you in creating citations accurately. Make sure to follow consistency while doing the citations.


While your dissertation should only have necessary information that directly pertains to your research question, you can add up other documents in the Appendices. These can be interview transcripts tables with full figures or survey questions etc.

A Few Tips to Structure a Dissertation Better

Now that we have understood the structure of a dissertation, it would be worthwhile to address a few key tips, which can help in putting the end to a dissertation much better.

Before you exclaim ‘now I know how to do my dissertation!’, we urge you to go through the following tips.

  • Always double check the research you gather, for the internet is filled with many false sources too.
  • Do make use of other mediums such as videos, audios and online presentations for gathering research.
  • Never plagiarise someone else’s work, try to write the material in your own words after thorough research.
  • Give credit for the information by including the sources in the references.
  • Maintain consistency and rationale in your writing.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, pass out on proofreading and editing your dissertation. This can include running your dissertation through a plagiarism checker too, checking all spelling and grammatical mistakes as well as formatting properly.
  • Have someone review your dissertation for you, as they may be able to spot errors and mistakes you had missed.

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Some of the common questions asked by students regarding this matter are:

You will need to submit a new application in the next semester for your dissertation and repeat the research credit hours all over again from scratch.

That varies from university to university and the regulations they might have set forth. However, it is required to complete the full credit hours of the final dissertation again.

Not much compared to the dissertation failure rate of Ph.D. students. The key is to follow all the advice of your supervisor as they usually carry most of the dissertation mark weightage.

To understand the procedure and to know what happens if you fail your dissertation on the first attempt, you will generally be given another opportunity to resubmit your dissertation on another given deadline.