What Is A Dissertation?

A dissertation or thesis is a long piece of academic writing based on original research. It is usually submitted as part of a PhD or master’s, and sometimes as part of a bachelor’s degree. Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you’ve ever done, and it can be intimidating to know where to start. This article helps you work out exactly what you should include and where to include it. You can also download our full dissertation template in .docx or Google Docs format. The template includes a ready-made table of contents with notes on what to include in each chapter. You can adapt it to your own requirements.


Deciding on your dissertation’s structure

Not all dissertations are structured exactly the same – the form your research takes will depend on your location, discipline, topic and approach. For example, dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay, building an overall argument to support a central thesis, with chapters organized around different themes or case studies.


Title page

But if you’re doing empirical research in the sciences or social sciences, your dissertation should generally contain all of the following elements. In many cases, each will be a separate chapter, but sometimes you might combine them. For example, in certain kinds of qualitative social science, the results and discussion will be woven together rather than separated.


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The very first page of your document contains your dissertation’s title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo. Many programs have strict requirements for formatting the dissertation title page.



The acknowledgements section is usually optional, and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you.



The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150–300 words long. You should write it at the very end, when you’ve completed the rest of the dissertation. In the abstract


Table of contents

In the table of contents, list all of your chapters and subheadings and their page numbers. The dissertation contents page gives the reader an overview of your structure and helps easily navigate the document.


List of figures and tables

If you have used a lot of tables and figures in your dissertation, you should itemize them in a numbered list. You can automatically generate this list using the Insert Caption feature in Word.

List of abbreviations

If you have used a lot of abbreviations in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.If you have used a lot of highly specialized terms that will not be familiar to your reader, it might be a good idea to include a glossary. List the terms alphabetically and explain each term with a brief description or definition.



In the introduction, you set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance, and tell the reader what to expect in the rest of the dissertation.
Establish your research topic, giving necessary background information to contextualize your work
Narrow down the focus and define the scope of the research

Clearly state your research questions and objectives Give an overview of your dissertation’s structure

Literature review / Theoretical framework

Before you start on your research, you should have conducted a literature review to gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic.


The methodology chapter or section describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to assess its validity.Your aim in the methodology is to accurately report what you did, as well as convincing the reader that this was the best approach to answering your research questions or objectives.

An evaluation or justification of your methods Your methods of collecting data (e.g. interviews, surveys, archives)


Next, you report the results of your research. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses, or themes.In some disciplines, the results section is strictly separated from the discussion, while in others the two are combined. For example, in qualitative methods like ethnography, the presentation of the data will often be woven together with discussion and analysis.

Include tables and figures if they help the reader understand your results. Don’t include subjective interpretations or speculation.