Writing your first dissertation is a notoriously difficult task, but with the right structure, you can make it easier.
Here’s our quick guide to how your dissertation should look, though different topics and disciplines may need different approaches. Make sure you ask your tutor as well, just to be on the safe side!
These should include:
- a title page
- your abstract or summary, which should explain what your dissertation is about, how you came to your conclusions, and what those conclusions might mean
- acknowledgements, where you thank anyone who helped you
- your declaration (i.e. explaining if your dissertation includes any work you’ve already used and an explanation of how your dissertation meets the project guidelines)
- contents page with page numbers (including any chapters, sections, subsections, appendices, glossary, references, bibliography, and an index -- though don't panic if your dissertation doesn't have all of these elements!)
- lists of figures and tables that you have used and on which pages
- any relevant definitions of specific vocabulary or concepts
- a glossary of terms or abbreviations
Make sure that your introductory sentence is attention-grabbing -- it's often the first thing that the examiner will read. Give a broad overview of your research and explain what you want to achieve and your objectives, as well as the general content of what is in each chapter and why.
Review of Literature
Use this section to show not just what you have read during your research, but that you understand it. Make sure that you are critically analysing each text and how they compare to each other, explaining how they relate to your work and how you used it.
Explain the rationale behind how you did your research, how you gathered your data, how you analysed it, and why you chose these methods rather than others.
This is potentially the most straight-forward section: present your results or findings, including tables, charts, or other diagrams if necessary.
In this section, you should interpret your results and examine what factors or circumstances led to them.
This is one of the more important chapters, as you will be able to demonstrate your academic and intellectual skills. Challenge yourself through considering your findings and what can be learned from them, including what limitations may have affected your results.
This chapter is another important chapter, as it may be among the first things that your examiner reads.
Summarise your findings and what they might mean for your field as a whole. You should also explore whether your objectives have been met and how; and if they haven't, why that might have happened.
Cover any further research that you think should be undertaken as a result of your conclusions. Think about what the next steps or questions might be, and identify how other academics can build on what you have done.
List all the work you have quoted or otherwise used (including any of your own previous work). Make sure to check with your tutor on which referencing system would be best for you.
Bibliography (if required)
Use this for a list of all the books or other texts that you have consulted.
Appendices (if required)
An appendix should be used for any information that is too detailed or not relevant enough for the main dissertation (for example, a full transcript of an interview which you refer to in one of your dissertation chapters).
You must refer to the appendix in the main body of your work. or risk the appendix being disregarded.