In the academic writing world, the arrangement and organisation of a dissertation are crucial for effectively communicating your research findings, arguments, and ideas to your intended audience. A well-structured dissertation not only makes the research process more manageable but also enhances the clarity and impact of your work. Therefore, gaining proficiency in the layout and structure of a dissertation is a fundamental aspect of achieving success.
In this blog post, we will thoroughly review the typical dissertation layout and structure, which is commonly used in universities across the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, and Australia.
However, there’s a possibility that some institutions may have slight variations in this structure, such as additional chapters, combined chapters, or changes in the order of sections.
For clarity, we recommend checking your university’s guidelines to determine if they have specific requirements for the structure and format of your academic work.
If your university does not provide such guidelines, you can assume that the structure we are about to discuss is generally acceptable. Furthermore, even if your institution has specific requirements, this article will still be valuable as it will explain the key components of each section.
Your dissertation’s title page is the first impression that the evaluator will have of your work, so it is important to spend some time thinking about your title.
But what’s the definition of a good title?
A strong title should have three qualities:
- Conciseness: It should not be overly long or verbose.
- Specificity: It should avoid being vague or ambiguous.
- Reflectiveness of your research: It should clearly relate to your research questions.
Typically, a good title includes the following:
- The broader area of your research (the overarching topic).
- The specific focus of your research (your particular context).
- An indication of your research design (such as quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods).
This page gives you the chance to express your gratitude to those who supported you throughout your research journey. However, it is optional and does not contribute to your academic grading. However, it is considered best practice in the academic world to include it.
So, whom should you acknowledge?
While there are no strict requirements, it is customary to mention the following individuals:
- Your dissertation supervisor or committee.
- Professors, lecturers, or academics who assisted you in comprehending the subject matter or research methods.
- Tutors, mentors, or advisors who provided guidance.
- Your family and friends, with a special emphasis on your spouse (especially if you are an adult learner studying part-time).
Abstract or executive summary
The dissertation abstract (or executive summary in certain degree programs) plays a crucial role in providing the initial reader, which may include the marker or moderator, with an overarching view of your research project. Its purpose is to convey the main insights and discoveries of your research without necessitating a full review of the entire report; in essence, it should be self-contained.
To achieve this self-contained nature, your abstract should encompass, at a minimum, the following key elements:
- Research Questions and Objectives: What were the central questions or objectives your research aimed to address?
- Methodology: How did you undertake the investigation of your topic and seek answers to your research questions?
- Findings: What were the outcomes and results of your research?
- Conclusions: What conclusions did you reach based on your findings, and what answers did you provide to your research questions?
Table of contents
This section is quite simple. Usually, you will begin by displaying your table of contents (TOC), followed by two lists: one for figures and another for tables. We suggest you use Microsoft Word’s automatic table of contents generator to create your TOC.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Now that we’ve addressed the administrative sections, it’s time to get into the core chapters of your dissertation. These chapters serve as the foundation of your work and are where you’ll earn the most points.
The first chapter is the introduction chapter, which is precisely the place to introduce your research.
This chapter should commence from the very beginning and provide answers to the following questions:
- What is the overarching subject of your investigation, stated in clear and straightforward terms?
- Why is this subject worth investigating? What is its significance in academics or business, and how does it demonstrate originality?
- What are your research objectives and research questions? Please note that the research questions may also be presented at the end of the literature review (in the following chapter).
- What is the extent of your study? In other words, what will you include and exclude from your research scope?
- How will you approach your research? In other words, what research methodology will you employ?
- How will you organise your dissertation? What are the key chapters, and what will you cover in each of them?
Chapter 2: Literature Review
Now that you’ve established a clear direction in your introduction chapter, the second step is the literature review. In this section, you will scrutinise existing research, primarily drawn from academic journal articles and reputable industry publications, with the aim of addressing the following inquiries:
- What is the current state of the literature about the topic you are investigating?
- Is the existing literature well-established, or does it display gaps and inconsistencies? Is there a consensus or disagreement within the literature?
- How does your research align with the broader context of existing knowledge?
- In what way does your research introduce original contributions?
- How does the methodology employed in previous studies inform the development of your own research?
Depending on the nature of your study, you can also introduce a conceptual framework towards the conclusion of your literature review, which you will then test in your research.
Chapter 3: Methodology
Now that you’ve thoroughly explored existing knowledge in your literature review chapter and have a good understanding of the prevailing theories, models, and frameworks, it’s time to develop your own research plan. This brings us to the methodology chapter, which is often considered the most scientific of all the chapters.
Within this chapter, you need to address two crucial questions:
- How exactly will you conduct your research? In other words, what is your intended research design?
- Why have you chosen to approach your research in this particular way, and how do you justify your design choices?
It’s important to provide detailed information in this chapter, leaving no room for confusion. Clearly outline the specifics of your research, including who will be involved, when it will take place, the duration, and other relevant details. Additionally, for every decision you make in your research design, ensure that you provide a well-reasoned justification.
Chapter 4: Findings
After collecting your data and completing your analysis, whether it’s qualitative, quantitative, or a combination of both, this chapter is dedicated to presenting the unprocessed results of your analysis. For instance, in the case of a quantitative study, you’ll present demographic data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, and so on.
Chapter 4 typically serves as a straightforward presentation and description of the data without delving into the interpretation or significance of the data. In essence, it remains descriptive rather than analytical; the interpretation and discussion of the data take place in Chapter 5.
Chapter 5: Analysis and Discussion
Now that you have presented the results of your data analysis, it’s time to interpret and analyse these findings. This chapter is dedicated to discussing what these findings mean, especially in relation to your research question(s).
The content of this chapter will largely depend on your chosen research methodology. For example, if you opted for a quantitative approach, you may discuss relationships between variables. If you chose a qualitative approach, you might explore key themes and their meanings. But this will be determined by the design choices you made for your research.
Chapter 6: Conclusion
Welcome to the final chapter – you’ve reached the end of your journey! After thoroughly examining and interpreting the results, it’s time to return to the starting point in the conclusion chapter. In other words, you’re now tasked with addressing your original research questions, which were introduced way back in Chapter 1. It’s essential to clearly articulate your conclusions in terms of these research questions. While this may seem somewhat repetitive, as you touched on in the previous chapter, it’s crucial to bring the discussion full circle to give answers to the research questions.
Additionally, it’s important to discuss the limitations of your research and what implications these limitations have for future research in the same field. No study is flawless, especially at the Master’s level, so it’s essential to acknowledge and discuss the shortcomings of your research.
The reference list is a straightforward element of your dissertation. It should include a comprehensive list of all the resources you’ve cited in your work, adhering to the required citation format, such as APA or Harvard.
It is essential to use reference management software for your dissertation. Avoid attempting manual referencing, as it can lead to errors, especially when dealing with a reference list that spans multiple pages.
Some universities may request a bibliography instead of a reference list. It’s crucial to understand that these two components are not identical. A bibliography resembles a reference list but also encompasses resources that have contributed to your understanding without being directly cited in your dissertation. Therefore, carefully review your instructions to ensure you use the correct format.
The final component is the appendix or a set of appendices. This is where you include supplementary data and evidence. These appendices should provide additional information that enhances the depth of your work but is not indispensable for the core analysis.
They should not be used to reduce the word count by placing critical content necessary for the core analysis within them. Remember, no marks will be awarded for the content in the appendices, so manipulating the system in this way is a bad idea.
Properly structuring your dissertation is vital for persuading your audience. Instructors and readers expect a well-organised document that enhances their knowledge in the field. Moreover, the writer’s research and writing skills are showcased through a well-structured and clearly outlined dissertation.
If you’re also facing challenges while writing your dissertation and seeking assistance from dissertation writing services, our experts are here to help you out.