Dissertation: How to structure it?
It’s dissertation season! For a lot of people, this might be your first time writing one, and it can get really scary. With all your research flying around you, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and get nothing done until a long time. We know the troubles, with many of us having gone through it before. That’s why we thought that a dissertation structure toolkit would help you get ahead of your deadline and not fall asleep on your laptop.
Dissertation Structure Toolkit
#1 Conduct a literature review
Before you start with your dissertation, you should conduct a literature review. What is a literature review? It helps you gain a thorough understanding of the academic work and articles that already exist on your topic. This includes:
- Collecting sources (books, articles, journal articles, published papers) and narrowing down the most relevant ones.
- Thoroughly and critically evaluating and analyzing each source.
- Making a note of the interconnected themes, patterns, conflicts, and gaps to make an overall point. Avoid summarizing the existing studies, instead develop a coherent structure and argument that will lead to clear basis or justification for your own research. Maybe your research:
1. Addresses a gap in the literature
2. Has a new approach to the problem
3. Gives a solution to a problem that is yet unresolved
4. Builds on the existing knowledge with new data
#2 Decide the structure of your dissertation
Not all dissertations are structured in the same way. For humanities, the results will tie into the discussion and conclusion and will flow like an objective essay. For empirical research, the results will be displayed first and then discussed after the discussion. If you have a doubt about the kind of structure your dissertation should use, we suggest that you consult your guide/mentor.
#3 Title Page
The title page is the very first page of your document, which contains your dissertation’s title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. In some formats, you might have to include your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo. Most universities have very strict requirements for formatting the title page.
The acknowledgements section is usually optional. It gives you the opportunity to thank everyone who helped you in your research; your parents, sponsors, mentors, friends, etc.
An abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually from 150 words to 300 words long. Ideally, you should write the abstract after you have finished writing your dissertation. It should contain:
- The main topic and aims of your research
- The methods used
- A summary of the main results
- Conclusions of your research
Make sure that your abstract is well-written and concretely states the summary of your research. It’s the first part that people will read, sometimes the only part that they will read. Make sure it’s perfect!
#6 Table of Contents
The table of contents contains a list of all your chapters, along with their subheadings and page numbers. It helps the reader navigate your dissertation properly. All parts of your dissertation have to be included in the table of contents, including the appendices.
The introduction should contain your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance. It should set stage for what the reader should expect from the rest of the dissertation. It should:
- Establish your research topic.
- Give the necessary background information
- Define the scope of the research and narrow down the scope
- Discuss any existing research on the topic
- Show your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate that has not been solved by the existing research
- Contain your research questions and objectives
- Have an overview of your dissertation’s structure
- Your introduction should be clear and relevant so that it is easy for the reader to understand the technicalities of your research.
#8 Literature review / Theoretical framework
A literature review should be the first thing you conduct before starting your dissertation. It’s necessary in order to gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic. This will include:
- Collecting sources like books, journal articles, other thesis papers, and selecting the most relevant ones
- Critical evaluation and analysis of each source
- Drawing relevant connections between them like themes, patterns, and more importantly, gaps, to make an overall point.
It’s important that you don’t just summarize the existing studies, but develop a coherent structure and argument that will justify your own research. It might aim to show how your research:
- Addresses a gap in the literature and proposes a solution to an unresolved problem
- Has a new approach to the topic and advances a theoretical debate
- And builds on the existing knowledge with new data
A literature review is the basis for a theoretical framework, more than often. In it, you can define and analyze the key theories, and concepts and models that make up the skeleton of your research.
This section describes how you conducted your research. It allows your reader to assess its validity. Methodology generally includes:
- Approach and type of research
- Methods of collecting data
- Details of the research
- Methods of analyzing data
- Tools and materials used
- An evaluation/ justification of your methods
This section can be structured around sub-questions, hypotheses, or topics. In some forms of dissertations, the results section is separated from the discussion, while in others the two are combined. In qualitative research like in-depth interviews, the results will be presented along with discussion and analysis. In quantitative research, the results should be presented separately before you discuss their meaning.
The discussion is where the results are interpreted in detail and whether they met the expectations of your research.
The conclusion should ideally answer the main research question and leaves the reader with a clear understanding of the central argument that you make.
#12 Reference list
Include the complete details of all sources that you have cited in a reference list according to the citation conventions that have been specified.
Structuring a dissertation can be hard work, especially when you are writing one for the first time. You are bound to be confused and stressed out, but it’s important that you chart out a rough skeleton of the structure that you are going to use, which makes it easier! To read more in-depth articles on academic writing, check out the PaperTrue Resource Center!
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