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Dissertations 2: Structure: Thematic

Dissertation Structure

Structure

In the humanities, a thematic dissertation is often structured like a long essay. It can contain: 

  1. Title page 

  1. Abstract 

  1. Table of contents 

  1. Introduction  

  1. Literature review (which can be included in the introduction rather than as a separate chapter. Check with your supervisor if you are unsure). 

  1. Theme 1 

  1. Theme 2 

  1. Theme 3 

  1. Conclusion 

  1. Bibliography 

  1. Appendices 

Abstract

Abstracts are used by other researchers to establish the relevance of the study to their own work. Therefore, they should contain the what, why, who, where and how of your project.  

They are typically between 250 – 300 words long, offer a summary of the main findings and present the conclusions, so you should attempt to write an abstract (if requested), after you have finished writing the dissertation.  

A typical abstract summarises: 

  • What the study aimed to achieve  

  • The methodology used 

  • Why the research was conducted 

  • Why the research is important 

  • Who/what was researched 

Table of Contents

The table of contents should list all the items included in your dissertation.  

It is a good idea to use the electronic table of contents feature in Word to automatically link it to your chapter headings and page numbers. Attempting to manually create a table of contents means that you will have to adjust your page numbers every time you edit your work before submission, which may waste valuable time!  

This useful video will walk you through the formatting of longer documents using the electronic table of contents feature. 

Introduction

The introduction explains the how, what, where, when, why and who of the research. It introduces the reader to your dissertation and should act as a clear guide as to what it will cover.  

The introduction may include the following content: 

Introduce the topic of the dissertation

  • State why the topic is of interest 
  • Give background information on the subject. 
  • Refer to the main debates in the field

Identify the scope of your research 

  • Highlight what hasn't already been said by the literature  
  • Demonstrate what you seek to investigate, and why 
  • Present the aim of the dissertation. 
  • Mention your research question or hypothesis 

Indicate your approach  

  • Introduce your main argument (especially if you have a research question, rather than hypothesis). 
  • Mention your methods/research design. 
  • 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. 

Literature Review

The term “literature” in “literature review” comprises scholarly articles, books, and other sources (e.g. reports) relevant to a particular issue, area of research or theory. In a dissertation, the literature review illustrates what the literature already says on your research subject, providing summary and synthesis of such literature.  

It is generally structured by topic, starting from general background and concepts, and then addressing what can be found - and cannot be found - on the specific focus of your dissertation. Indeed, the literature review should identify gaps in the literature, that your research aims to fill. This requires you to engage critically with the literature, not merely reproduce the critical understanding of others.  

In sum, literature reviews should demonstrate how your research question can be located in a wider field of inquiry. Therefore, a literature review needs to address the connections between your work and the work of others by highlighting links between them. In doing so, you will demonstrate the foundations of your project and show how you are taking the line of inquiry forwards.  

By the end of your literature review, your reader should be able to see: 

  • The gap in knowledge and understanding which you say exists in the field. 

  • How your research question will work within that gap. 

  • The work other researchers have carried out and the issues debated in the field. 

  • That you have a good understanding of the field and that you are critically engaged with the debates (Burnett, 2009). 

For more detailed guidance on how to write literature reviews, check out the Literature Review Guide. 

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. 

Conclusion

The conclusion is the final chapter of your dissertation. It should flow logically from the previously presented text; therefore, you should avoid introducing new ideas, new data, or a new direction.  

Ideally, the conclusion should leave the reader with a clear understanding of the discovery or argument you have advanced.  

This can be done by: 

  1. Summarising and synthesising your main findings and how they relate to your research question or hypotheses  

  1. Demonstrating the relevance and importance of your work in the wider context of your field. For example, what recommendations would you make for future research? What do we know now that we didn’t know before? 

Tips 

  • Link your conclusion to your introduction as both frame your dissertation. 

  • A conclusion is roughly five to ten percent of the word count of the dissertation. 

  • Avoid excessive detail. Decide what your reader needs to know. 

  • Don’t introduce any new information such as theories, data or ideas.  

  • Sum up the main points of your research.  

Bibliography

While writing your dissertation, you would have referred to the works and research of many different authors and editors in your field of study. These works should be acknowledged in the bibliography where you will list writers alphabetically by surname. 

For example: 

Poloian, L.R. (2013). Retailing principles: global, multichannel, and managerial viewpoints. New York: Fairchild. 
Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university. Maidenhead: Open University Press. 
Ramsay, P., Maier, P. and Price, G. (2010). Study skills for business and management students. Harlow: Longman. 

Unless otherwise specified by your module leader, the University uses the Harvard (author-date) style of citing and referencing. For more guidance and support on how to reference effectively check out the Referencing Guide. You can also book an appointment with an Academic Engagement Librarian for extra help with referencing. 

Appendices

While the main results of your study should be placed in the body of your dissertation, any extra information can be placed in the appendices chapter. This supplementary information, for instance, can consist of graphs, charts, or tables that demonstrate less significant results or interview transcripts that would disrupt the flow of the main text if they were included within it.  

You can create one long appendix section or divide it into smaller sections to make it easier to navigate. For example, you might want to have an appendix for images, an appendix for transcripts, and an appendix for graphs. Each appendix (each graph or chart, etc.) should have its own number and title. Further, the sources for all appendices should be acknowledged through referencing and listed in the bibliography. 

Don’t forget to mention each appendix at least once during your dissertation! This can be done using brackets in the following way: (see appendix 1).