How to Structure a Dissertation- Step-by-Step Guide

How to Structure a Dissertation

A dissertation is an integral part of your master’s or Ph.D. degree. Every student and researcher confront with writing a dissertation at any stage of their journey. Writing a dissertation can be a complex process if you do not have any idea of how to do it. Besides research skills, which are vital for writing any piece of academic work, you also must master the art of doing things in the right direction. What that means is that you must have a knowledge of the steps required for writing a dissertation, it can save your time as well. So if you are on this way then this step-by-step guide can serve as a torchlight for your journey. This guide is going to elaborate on all the steps required to write a dissertation. Having said this, you must check with the guidelines provided by your university and supervisor if they have any strict format to follow. Let us explore the steps required for writing a dissertation.

What is a Dissertation and How to Structure it?

A dissertation is the longest academic work based on research that is original which means based on your own research so you must know what things are worth including and what is the placement of things that need to be included. As far as structure is concerned it depends on your discipline and type of study you are doing, for example, humanities dissertations are structured differently from the dissertation of sciences. They can vary in terms of their chapters, in terms of the sections, and in terms of their methods. However, the general guidelines which are considered standard guidelines across many universities around the world are as follows.

Title page

The first page is called the title page.  The title page of your dissertation contains your topic, your own name and the roll number assigned to you from your institution, the name of your department, the name of your degree, the name and logo of your university, the name of your supervisor, and the date of submission. Do not forget to check with your department guidelines.


Of course, it is not alone you who should take all the credit there are many people who help you in achieving this crown. The page of acknowledgement is exactly made for this that you should thank everyone who helped you. Your university, your supervisor without his or her guidelines it would have not been possible for you, your family who support you give you time and space and help you in all the ways they can, you friends and colleagues who might have provided help in collecting data, etc. this may be an optional page at some places but it is a good way to thank everyone who helps you on your writing journey.


The abstract comes on the very pages of your thesis but should be writing at the very end the reason is that the abstract is the summary of your whole dissertation. The abstract is a short summary that tells everything about your dissertation from your topic, aims, and objective to your conclusion. It usually consists of about 300 words and includes the summary of the objective of the research, the methods which are used, the result of the study, and the conclusion of your study. It should be written so effectively that can hook the reader to read because this is often the only part people do read while skimming and scanning for their data and literature review. So if you’re struggling to write a strong abstract, read our guide on how to write an abstract.

Table of Contents

It is the list of your chapters along with their headings, subheadings, and even the number of pages, they are written on. Make sure to include all parts in the table even the appendices. The dissertation contents page is helpful for the reader as this page not only gives an overview of the structure of your whole dissertation but also helps the reader to navigate throughout your dissertation. you can also use software to automatically generate it.

List of Tables and Figures

If your topic requirement was to present data in tabular and figure form and you have used it a lot, then you must make a page that contains the numbered list of your tables and figures. It can also be generated automatically using the software.

List of Abbreviations

If you have used abbreviations in your dissertation, then you must include a page for it too. And on this page, you can include abbreviations in alphabetical order. So it can be easily readable for the reader who wanted to look for which abbreviation stands for what.


A glossary is a page explaining the terminologies of your dissertation. Terminologies are any specialized words that require explanation to any general reader who does not belong to that field. so if you have used such terms then adding a page of the glossary can be a good idea. List all such terms in alphabetical order explaining the meaning in simple words against each term on the glossary page.


And here your dissertation takes the official start. The introduction explains the purpose of your research, starting from the background, making it relevant to the current situation what your topic can bring to the reader. In the part of the introduction, you explain your title of research telling the reader why it was important to research on this topic. You set a background putting some light on the earlier researches in that field and then be more specific towards your topic of research. This way you establish the scope and significance of your study and connect it to some broader context. Besides scope and significance, you also state the objectives of your research, the questions you are going to address in your dissertation, and seeking answers for or the hypothesis you are trying to prove through your research. Your introduction also shed some light on the structure that how you have organized your dissertation, every point should be made clear.  If you need more help, read our guide on how to write a dissertation introduction.

Literature Review

A literature review has gained much importance in the field of research. It is actually the first and foremost step of your research. Even a literature review helps you in deciding the title of your dissertation sometimes after doing a literature review you get ideas on how you can be more specific and refine the title of your studies. In the literature review part, you review all the academic literature available on the topic of your interest in order to get a comprehensive understanding of what has already been done. In order to do a literature review, you should consult books, journals, thesis, and dissertations available on academic sites and available in libraries. Once you collect relevant data then write them all in a coherent manner and argumentative style and lean towards your topic of research. By doing a literature review you will get to know about the gap that exists which can provide a basis for your research.

Theoretical Framework

In some disciplines, a theoretical framework is the part of the literature review while in others it can be merged under the chapter of literature review. In the part of the theoretical framework, you are supposed to evaluate theories and models used to conduct the research by other researchers in the same field of your topic. It provides the basis for methodological ground and you analyze your results in the light of theory and concepts used for research.


This chapter deals with the methodological approach you chose to adopt for your study. The approach you chose depends on the type of your study. Some researchers use a qualitative approach while others may choose to use a quantitative. Then you have to tell your reader from where and how you have collected data for your research there are various ways of data collection like surveys, experiments, content analysis, in-depth interviews, etc. The chapter on methodology also includes the way you have analyzed your data for example to analyze quantitative data you may need to use statistics while for other descriptive studies you may use discourse or any other relevant analysis. By telling your reader all what and how about your work you justify that this was the best method for your study.


It varies with the type of study. In quantitative studies, results are presented as a separate chapter while in qualitative studies results are merged in the chapter of discussion. In the chapter on results, all results are stated concisely for example if you have used statistical analysis then you clearly states either you have used descriptive statistics or inferential. You interpret your data in tabular form and use figures to make it easy to read and understand. You answer all your research questions and hypothesis.


The researcher in this chapter explains the results and states how the results of the research are significant and can be placed in the context of earlier studies. You also explain how your study contributes to the earlier researches and how it can serve the academic community, you can use relevant citations to refer back to the introduction and literature review. You compare your findings with the findings of other researchers. You discuss how your results support your research questions or hypothesis. If you came across some finding which was unexpected for you, do not forget to include that too.


This is the final part of dissertation writing that wraps it up all and is a clear reflection of your whole research. The part of the conclusion is shorter than the discussion. You start writing with the purpose of your research and how you have done it. Remember not to repeat each and everything it is just the summary. Also if there were any limitations and if any way those limitations have affected validity you must mention them. These limitations also lay the foundation for recommendations for future researchers interested to work on a similar topic.

Click here to learn how to write a dissertation problem statement

References List

You must give credit to all those whose work you have used to make a base for your own research. Besides in-text citations you are supposed to give the whole reference of cited work, it is also helpful for the reader who wants to study any particular thing in detail. References also give authenticity to your research giving an essence that your piece of research is not your subjective opinion but it is objective. There are many citation styles, for example, APA, MLA, Harvard, OSCOLA, IEEE, Chicago, etc. and each discipline uses a particular one you must check with your university guidelines which one is required and appropriate for your study. You can make a references list manually but by using the software you can auto-generate it accurately.


You can put additional information in the part of the appendix. You can put results in the part of the appendix which is less significant for example transcripts of output in case you have used statistical analysis, description of sample in detail, transcripts of interview, etc. all things that cannot go into your dissertation can be a part of the appendix. It helps to keep your dissertation go inflow without any distraction of less important information and helps in maintain the word count to its required limit.


You must proofread your dissertation once it is done, otherwise grammatical and structural mistakes can leave a bad impression on your supervisor and reader. it not only affects your grade but also the amount of hard work you have put in your work can all go in vain. So always proofread and edit and re-edit wherever it is needed. You can also hire professional services of experts to proofread your dissertation.