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A Guide on How to Structure your Dissertation

A dissertation, which is a paper required to earn a Ph.D. or Master’s degree, is perhaps one of the...

Angelina Grin Written by Angelina Grin · 4 min read >
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A dissertation, which is a paper required to earn a Ph.D. or Master’s degree, is perhaps one of the most extended papers you will write in your scholarly journey. Because they illustrate advanced understanding, they should be meticulously written, clear, and organized. 

Depending on your field, a dissertation structure may vary, but the structure is usually divided into at least four or five chapters (introduction and conclusion included). Given the complexity and time required to write a dissertation, some students ask for a custom dissertation writing service. Even with that, how do you ensure that the structure has been adhered to? 

We will discuss how to organize and stick to the structure of an academic dissertation. 

Note: Not all dissertation papers are the same. Because of this, there isn’t a standard structure to follow. How well you organize your ideas and weave an argument around the central thesis matters. 

1. Title Page

The first page of the paper contains your name, title, name of institution and department, student number, supervisor’s name, and date of submission. Sometimes, it could also include the logo of your university.

2. Acknowledgment

An optional section to appreciate everyone who gave you a hand in the research. This could include family, research assistants, laboratory supervisors, etc. 

3. Abstract

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A summary that is normally between 150 and 300 words. Most readers will read the abstract first before deciding whether your paper is valuable to them. This should be written once you are done with the other sections.

Make sure to include the following in your abstract:

  • The key topic and what your research aims to achieve
  • A clear description of the methodology used
  • A summary of the main results
  • Conclusion of your points

4. Table of Contents 

An overview of the dissertation’s structure, which helps the reader easily navigate the document. Microsoft Word allows you to generate this section automatically. 

5. List of Tables and Figures

Itemizes all figures, data, and tables that appear on your dissertation in a numbered list. The insert feature tab on MS word will come in handy when creating this section. 

6. List of Abbreviations

Includes a list of all abbreviations used in the paper and puts them down in alphabetic order. 

7. Glossary

It is a good idea to explain specialized terms you deem difficult for your readers. Also, remember to put them down in alphabetic order. 

8. Introduction

An engaging section designed to summarize the topic, objective of the paper, and relevance to the subject. This section contains your research topic, background information, scope, existing research work about the topic, research questions and objectives, and an overview of your structure. You will answer the what’s, why’s, and how’s.

You should keep your introduction concise, engaging, and relevant to your research topic.

9. Literature Review

Contains a review of all existing research studies about your topic of interest. This could be a collection of books and journals that you will closely evaluate to draw a connection between them and your central thesis. 

Remember that a literature review is not all about summarizing existing studies, but it encompasses creating a coherent structure and logical argument to justify your research. For instance, your dissertation literature review should aim to show how your research:

  • Solves an existing gap in the literature
  • Uses a new or methodological, or theoretical approach to the topic
  • Provides or proposes an answer to an unresolved problem
  • Advances a theoretical debate
  •  Provides new data to build and strengthen existing knowledge

Your dissertation lit review forms the grounds for a theoretical framework, in which the main theories are explained and analyzed, including the models and concepts that direct your research.

Therefore, in the literature review section, you provide answers to descriptive research queries about relationships between concepts and variables.

10. Methodology

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This section details your process of conducting research and the approach you took in crafting the dissertation. Make sure to include the following in your methodology:

  • The type of research and approach employed( the research could be quantitative, qualitative, ethnographic, or experimental)
  • The methods used to collect data (e.g., surveys, questionnaires, archives, focus groups, interviews, etc.)
  • The methods used to analyze data( e.g., discourse analysis, statistical analysis)
  • Tools and materials used (e.g., lab equipment, computer programs, etc.)
  • A description of any challenges faced when doing your research and how you dealt with them)
  • An assessment or justification of your research methods

The primary purpose of the methodology section is to offer an accurate explanation of the entire research process and convince the reader that the approaches you are the best to obtain answers to your research questions.

11. Results

It might be in the form of statistics or weaved around a hypothesis, sub-question(s), or themes. The reader should be able to understand how your results relate to the subject questions. In some subjects, the result section is written as an independent section, while in others, the two are combined.

For instance, for qualitative research using methods such as interviews, the data is presented together with the discussion and analysis, while in experimental and quantitative research, the results are presented separately and then their meaning is discussed in a separate section.

When presenting results, it is recommended to use graphs, tables, and chats. However, you should present your data carefully, avoiding including figures and charts that repeat what you have already written. The charts should offer more insights into your research and avail your information in a way that adds value to your research.

12. Discussion

In the discussion section, you should briefly highlight the meaning and implications of the outcomes in connection to your research questions. You should make it easier for the reader to understand the results in detail and easily decide whether they met your research aims, including how well they fit with the established framework in earlier chapters.

If some of the results obtained were unexpected, you should provide explanations about the possible reasons for this. Remember, you are not bound to a particular result in your research. Therefore, you can consider a different interpretation of your data and discuss the possible variables that might have influenced the outcomes.

13. Recommendations

This section should provide recommendations for future research or even provide practical action.


The conclusion of your dissertation should provide a precise answer to the central question of your research so that the reader can get a clear understanding of the main argument. Therefore, you should concisely explain what you did and how you achieved it. Often, the conclusion also includes recommendations for research.

Therefore, tell your reader how your research contributes to knowledge in the discipline and why it matters. Have your findings added anything to the existing knowledge?

Reference list

All the sources you have used in your research should be included in the reference list (also known as bibliography or works cited list).

There are various referencing styles, and if you choose a particular one, you should consistently follow it. Common referencing styles used for dissertations include MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard, Vancouver, and OSCOLA.

Often, your professor will provide precise referencing requirements you ought to follow. If you are not sure, you can ask for clarification before you start writing your dissertation.


Written by Angelina Grin
Professional writer with more than 14 years of experience. I studied journalism at the university, worked for media and digital agencies, and organized several events for ed-tech companies. Profile