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Library Guides

Dissertations: Structure

Dissertations Structured by Sections

Conventions that guide the presentation, structuring and referencing of dissertations vary for different disciplines. You will need to check and follow any guidelines given by your department.

A common structure for dissertations (and extended reports) is:

1)      Abstract

2)      Introduction

3)      Literature Review

4)      Methodology

5)      Results

6)      Discussion

7)      Conclusion

8)      Bibliography

9)      Appendices 

Note on this structure: Scientific dissertations are likely to have separate Results chapter and Discussion chapter. 

Students using qualitative methods may replace the Results and Discussion chapters with several Analysis and Discussion chapters. In this case, each chapter focuses on a specific theme arising from the research objectives. The chapters will include analysis and interpretation of the research data (e.g. literature, content analysis, interviews, observations), connecting the data to academic theories/research.

Dissertations Structured by Themes (Arts and Humanities)

Many dissertations in the humanities have a thematic structure:

1) Introduction

2) Background (this is sometimes part of the introduction and not a separate chapter)

3) Theme 1

4) Theme 2

5) Theme 3


6) Conclusion

7) Bibliography


How to structure the Theme chapters

In a thematic structure, the core chapters present analysis and discussion of different themes relevant to answer the research question and support the overall argument of the dissertation. The chapters will include analysis of texts/ research material. They can explore and connect academic theories/research to develop an argument. Stella Cottrell offers some good guidance on how to structure your theme chapters. Each chapter should have the following elements (Cottrell, 2014, p183).

Theme: What is the theme of this chapter? Sequence your themes logically (e.g. from general to specific). 

Argument: What argument does this chapter present? 

Material: What material you will be using for this chapter?

Clustering: What are the main points you want to make? Deal with one point at a time, and don't jum around? Dedicate your points to sub-headings and paragraphs. 

Sequence: In what order are you going to present the points you want to make in this chapter? Draw an outline of the chapter before starting writing it. 

Introduction and Conclusion: Each chapter should have a short introduction and conclusion. 

Formatting Long Documents

You should try to format your document using the outline and table of contents functions in Word


An abstract is:

  • A short summary of the whole dissertation content.
  • It summarises the reason for focus, research aims, methodological approach, and conclusions of the dissertation.
  • Generally it has a word limit of about 300 words.

You are advised to write the abstract of your dissertation at the end of your dissertation writing, once you ar sure what you ar summarising!  


The introduction... introduces the reader to your dissertation and should act as a clear guide to your reader. The introduction may include the following content:

  1. Introduce the topic of the dissertation.
    1. Why is the topic of interest?
    2. Background information on the subject.
    3. Main debates in the field.
  2. Identify the scope of your research
    1. What hasn't already been said by the literature? 
    2. What do you seek to investigate, and why? 
    3. Mention the aim of the dissertation.
    4. Mention your research question or hypothesis
  3. Indicate your approach 
    1. Introduce your main argument (especially if you have a research question, rather than hypothesis).
    2. Mention your methods/research design.
  4. Outline the dissertation structure (introduce the main points that you will discuss in the order they will be presented).

Normally, the introduction is roughly 10% of a dissertation word count.

Another way of conceiving effective introductions to research papers is through Swales' CARS (Creating a Research Space) model.   


A good conclusion can make a difference in the mark of your dissertation. It is your last occasion to demonstrate that your dissertation was coherent and well evidenced. 

In the conclusion, you can present:

  1. Restatement of your research aims and objectives and how these have been met with a summary of your findings and conclusions.
  2. Possible contribution to knowledge (for the postgraduate level)
  3. Possible recommendations 
  4. Possible limitations 


This s a reference list, which includes all of the materials, books, and articles that you have cited and read for the dissertation. Check the guide on Citation and Referencing for more information on referencing and plagiarism.  


The appendices may include all the supporting evidence and material used for your research, such as interview transcripts, surveys, questionnaires, tables, graphs, or other charts and images that you may not wish to include in the main body of the report, but may be referred to throughout your discussion or results sections. If you have more than one Appendix, you should letter your Appendices (Appendix A, Appendix B etc.). 

Strong Paragraphs

Paragraphs, and namely strong paragraphs, are an essential device to keep your writing organised and logical. 


A paragraph is a group of sentences that are linked coherently around one central topic/idea. Paragraphs should be the building blocks of academic writing. Each paragraph should be doing a job, moving the argument forward and guiding your reading through your thought process.

Paragraphs should be 10-12 lines long, but variations are acceptable. Do not write one-sentence long paragraphs; this is journalistic style, not academic.

Strong paragraphs

You need to write so-called strong paragraphs wherein you present a topic, discuss it and conclude it, as afar as reasonably possible. Strong paragraphs may not always be feasible, especially in introductions and conclusions, but should be the staple of the body of your written work. 

Topic sentenceIntroduces the topic and states what your paragraph will be about

DevelopmentExpand on the point you are making: explain, analyse, support with examples and/or evidence.

Concluding sentenceSummarise how your evidence backs up your point. You can also introduce what will come next.

PEEL technique

This is a strategy to write strong paragraphs. In each paragraph you should include the following:

Point: what do you want to talk about?

Evidence: show me!

Evaluation: tell me!

Link: what's coming next?

Example of a strong paragraph, with PEEL technique:

Strong Paragraphs image

Paragraph bridges

Paragraphs may be linked to each other through "paragraph bridges". One simple way of doing this is by repeating a word or phrase.

Example 1:

Last sentence of a paragraph: First sentence of next paragraph:
In short, a number of efforts have been made to.... Despite these efforts,...

Example 2:

Last sentence of a paragraph: First sentence of next paragraph:
Smith suggests that there are two types of personalities: introverts and extroverts... Introverts typically favour...