Our post in Semester 1 ‘What makes a good dissertation?’ made it clear that markers believed structure and organisation was central to performing well in a dissertation.
Below you will find a list outlining some of the structural elements you can use and general guidance on what you should focus on in each section. Remember that this may vary between subjects, so always check the guidelines for your discipline.
- Title: this tells the reader what your work is about. It should be succinct, specific and representative of your research. Check the style guides for your discipline to see if this page has to be formatted in a certain way.
- Abstract: this offers a brief summary of the dissertation. It should outline why you undertook your research, the methodological approach you adopted, the results of your dissertation and implications for policy or future research.
- Acknowledgements: this is where you mention individuals who have helped with your work. Reading other dissertations in the field will help you identify the kind of people you should be acknowledging and the way to do this.
- Contents list: this makes clear the structure of the dissertation. Any imbalance in space devoted to different sections of content will become clear here. This is a useful check on whether you need to join sections or create new ones.
- Introduction: you should use this section to expand the material summarised in the abstract and to signpost the rest of the dissertation.
- Literature review: in this section, you need to situate your dissertation in the existing body of research. To do this, you should summarise the current state of research related to your topic, critique it and identify the gap in the literature you are seeking to fill. More resources are available on the Study Hub Learning Resources Literature review pages and in this Study Hub Blog post.
- Methodology: a detailed account of how you conducted the work. For example, if you did a statistical analysis on secondary data, did you weight the dataset? What were the statistical techniques you used? Why did you make your particular methodological choices?
- Results: it is useful to present your analysis in a way that is typical of journal articles in your field. You should also think about whether you want to move from the general to specific or vice versa when presenting your results. Giving equal weight, in terms of word count, to each of your hypotheses/research questions is important. Remember to link your work to the broader literature/context.
- Conclusion: here, you should present a brief summary of your research, make its limitations clear, explain its implications for theory/policy, and highlight avenues for future research.
- References/bibliography: this section must include at least all of the work you cited (check which one you need to produce), in the style required in your discipline. As you edit your text, you may remove some references and add others. Be sure to update this section as you do so and double check at the end to make sure everything is included.
- Appendices: include those things you want your reader to see, but which would interrupt the flow if placed in the main text. Reference the appendices in the main text and check if they are included in the word count.
Remember to check your programme handbook or course materials for what is expected/required in your subject.
Have a look at the Study Hub Learning Resources Dissertations and research projects page for more resources.
University of Leicester (n.d.) ‘Writing a dissertation.’ Available at: https://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/all-resources/writing/writing-resources/writing-dissertation [Accessed 31st July, 2020]
University of Sussex (n.d.) ‘Practical dissertation sections.’ Available at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/skillshub/index.php?id=486 [Accessed 5th March, 2021]
University of Sussex (n.d.) ‘Theoretical dissertation sections.’ Available at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/skillshub/index.php?id=487 [Accessed 5th March, 2021]