Dissertation Structure

Dissertation Structure: Tips for Writing a Successful Paper

Dissertation Structure

Dissertation Structure: Essential Steps

If you want to succeed with your dissertation, understanding proper dissertation structure is essential. The length of this all-important research paper can range between 20,000 and 50,000 words! As a result, even the most passionate scholars find it difficult to write them. But if you learn how to break it down into its parts, you will that the task becomes much less complicated. The way your dissertation is arranged will vary depending on which department you are studying in, but for the most part the sections that we will discuss are found in virtually all dissertations. The word count for each section and the amount of analysis that you provide will be influenced by the degree program you are pursuing. For instance, if you are studying in a field related to the humanities and social sciences, a large part of the paper will be subjective and devoted to your philosophical perspectives, although you will rely on sound arguments made by other researchers in order to support your own thesis. On the other hand, if you are studying a natural science, your approach will be more objective and you will focus on defending your research methods and discussing whether or not the results are valid.

Parts of the Dissertation

Clearly Defined Sections Word Count
Introduction 1500
Pre-theoretic overview 500
Why this is interesting? 100
Research Purpose 600
Aim and Objectives 300
Literature Review 3000
Historical Overview (of Theory) 500
Contemporary Review of Theory 1500
Context for Study 1000
Methodology 2000
Philosophy 500
Data Collection Technique 600
Sourcing and Selecting Data 200
Research Ethics 200
Data Analysis Tool(s) 500
Empirical Material 2000
Presentation of Data 500
Analysis 1000
Findings 500
Discussion 2000
Discussion 1800
Theory Development 200
Conclusion 1500
Reviewing the Aim and Objectives 300
Contribution – Theory 300
Contribution – Context
Contribution – Method
Contribution – Management Practice
Methodological Review 300
Limitations and Further Research 300
Overall Conclusion 300
Total 12000-14000

Now let us proceed to discuss the parts of the dissertation, which usually consist of the following:

  • Title Page
  • Preface or Acknowledgements
  • Abstract
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures and Tables
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Glossary
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Conclusion and discussion
  • Reference list
  • Appendices

Title Page

Since the dissertation title page – also referred to as the dissertation cover page – is the very first thing that the reader will see, it should make a good impression. It should contain a dissertation title that is informative but still gets straight to the point. If you can find a nice, relevant illustration to place on the page, that can be helpful as well. Your name, the academic department and name of your college/university belong here as well.


The preface consists of a personal note that informs the reader about what motivated you to choose the particular study. You will also use the opportunity to acknowledge those who helped and supported you during the course of your writing, including professors and family members.


Alternatively, you can include an acknowledgements section. The dissertation acknowledgements are very similar to the preface except that you will not discuss your reasons for choosing the topic you researched.


The purpose of your dissertation is not just to get the paper done with and collect your degree. Your goal is to make a contribution to academia, particularly in your field of research. The dissertation abstract helps you achieve this. Dissertation abstracts consist of a brief introductory statement that provides some background on your research highlights your methodology and provides a summary of the findings. While it should be concise – no more than 200 words – it needs to provide researchers with all the information necessary to determine whether they should read the entire paper and use it as a source for their own research. Think of it like a movie trailer that draws in the reader, except that you proceed to provide all of the spoilers.

Table of Contents

As the name suggests, the table of contents is where you list all of the chapters and sections of your dissertation. The dissertation table of contents will include the page number where the chapter/section starts.

List of Figures and Tables

A List of Figures and Tables is a convenient reference tool that makes it easy for the reader to locate the data associated with your research. This list will resemble the Table of Contents. Make sure to properly format the list, include all of the tables except for the ones you list in the Appendices, the figure and table titles should match exactly how it appears in the text, and double check to make sure the page numbers are accurate.

List of Abbreviations

When writing your dissertation, it is not necessary to write the full name of organizations or technical terms. Instead, you will use abbreviations within the text and then provide an abbreviations list so that the reader will know what they mean. You can generally choose to put this list at the beginning or end of your dissertation, although you should consult with your professor when in doubt.


When writing your dissertation, you might use words that are unfamiliar to the reader. In these circumstances, you will provide clarification through the glossary. The terms should be listed in alphabetical order and contain a definition or description.


As with any type of essay, you will need to begin with the dissertation introduction; although rather than being a paragraph long, it will consist of an entire chapter taking up several pages. The dissertation introductory chapter is extremely important because if the reader is not hooked from the start, they will not feel any motivation to read the paper. The introduction should provide background information about the topic and explain its relevance. You should maintain a scholarly tone and demonstrate your critical thinking skills. However, you will not spend much time analyzing the research quite yet; that is for the rest of the paper.

Literature Review

The second of the dissertation chapters is usually the literature review. You will devote a significant amount of secondary research on your topic in order to highlight the major theories and beliefs as espoused by other scholars and researchers. One of the main purposes of your dissertation is to demonstrate that your study fulfills a need as a result of gaps in the research. The literature review discusses what other researchers have found as it relates to your topic while also noting what has not yet been uncovered. What studies and sources you cover in the literature review depends on your field of study. For instance, if your topic is theology, you will likely focus on philosophical works whereas a biology paper will discuss the methodologies utilized by other researchers.


As you go about your research for the dissertation, being able to replicate the results and determine the validity of the research requires the use of the methods that are appropriate, practical and justifiable. This is what this chapter seeks to achieve. In other words, you cannot merely inform the reader that you are using questionnaires and leave it at that; you will need to go further and discuss why this is the best approach. You should also provide additional details such as how the questionnaire was designed and given out to the participants.

Main Body / Analysis of Findings

The third chapter, which consists of the main body and analysis of the findings, is the meat of your research. You will discuss what you uncovered in your research along with explaining and analyzing the results. If your methodology and the findings are elaborate and complex, you might end up devoting more than one chapter to this part of the dissertation. Ultimately, what these chapters consist of and how long they will be depend on the area of research. For instance, if your dissertation is related to a natural science, you probably will not discuss the conclusions in these chapters of the paper. Instead, you will focus on the empirical data that you uncovered from your research. On the other hand, if the field is in the social sciences or humanities, your theoretical conclusions and the data analysis will be intertwined. Regardless, you will want to go back and make references to the works you brought up in the literature review and use them to support your own research.


The conclusion chapter to your dissertation should be brief, but it should also broadly and thoroughly highlight your research, focusing particularly on the results of your study. Since this is your last chance to provide justification for your research, you should make sure to plan your words carefully. This means staying away from using useless clichés and making statements that are way too general. After all, your goal is to convince the readers that your theories and ideas are solid. You should ensure that your research is transparent and factual, with the information truly reflecting the results and not merely, what you had hoped to find. Make sure to address any weaknesses of your research and make recommendations for future research that could help remedy any flaws.

Reference List

The citation formatting style that you choose for your reference list will depend on your college/university or department guidelines. If you are not certain which one to use, ask your advisor. Do not underestimate the importance of properly formatting the paper based on APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian or whatever citation is required.


In some cases, you might attach an appendix or appendices to the end of your paper. This could include any graphs, tables or charts that you mention in the text or important documents that the reader might not otherwise have access. The dissertation is the most important paper you will ever write. Doing it successfully will not only ensure that you graduate, it will open doors to future opportunities, especially if you aspire to be a researcher. If you take the advice in this article to heart, you will be well on your way to writing a great dissertation!