A dissertation or thesis is a long academic writing based on original research. It is usually presented as part of a PhD or master’s degree, and sometimes as part of a bachelor’s degree.
The thesis is probably the longest writing you’ve ever done. It can be intimidating to know where to start. This article helps you know exactly what to include and where to include it.
How to decide the structure of your thesis
Not all theses are structured exactly the same. The form your research takes will depend on your location, discipline, topic, and focus.
For example, humanities works are often structured more like a long essay. A general argument is constructed to support a central thesis. It will have chapters organized around different topics or case studies.
However, if you are conducting empirical research in the field of science or social sciences, your doctoral thesis should generally contain all of the following elements. In many cases, each of them will be a separate chapter, but sometimes you can combine them. For example, in certain types of qualitative social sciences, results and discussion will be intertwined rather than separate.
The order of sections can also vary between fields and countries. For example, some universities advise that the conclusion always go before the discussion.
In case of doubt about how the thesis or dissertation should be structured, always check your department’s guidelines and consult with your supervisor.
The first page of the document contains the title of the thesis, your name, the department, the institution, the career and the date of submission. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university logo. Many programs have strict requirements for the formatting of the job title page.
The acknowledgements section is usually optional. It offers a space to thank all the people who have helped you write your thesis. This may include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who have supported you.
The abstract is a brief summary of your work, which is usually between 150 and 300 words. You should write it at the end, when you’ve completed the rest of the work. In the summary, make sure to:
- Expose the main theme and objectives of your research
- Describe the methods used
- Summarize the main results
- Stating the conclusions
- Although the summary is very brief, it is the first (and sometimes the only) part of your thesis that will be read. So it’s important that you get it right. If you’re having trouble writing a solid summary, read our guide on how to write a summary.
In the index, it lists all chapters and subtitles and their page numbers. The content page of the thesis offers the reader an overview of the structure of the work. It will help you to easily navigate the document.
All parts of the thesis must be included in the index, including appendices. You can automatically generate an index in Word if you’ve used heading styles.
List of figures and tables
If you have used many tables and figures in your thesis, you should break them down into a numbered list. You can generate this list automatically using word’s title insertion feature.
List of abbreviations
If you have used many abbreviations in your thesis, you can include them in a literate list of abbreviations. Thus the reader can easily look for its meaning.
If you’ve used a lot of highly specialized terms that are unfamiliar to the reader, it’s a good idea to include a glossary. List the terms in alphabetical order and explain each term with a brief description or definition.
In the introduction, you set out the topic, purpose, and relevance of your thesis. You tell the reader what to expect from the rest of the work. The introduction should:
- Establish the research topic, providing the necessary background information to contextualize the work
- Narrowing the focus and defining the scope of the research
- Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing the relevance of your work to a broader problem or debate.
- Clearly set out the questions and objectives of the research
- Present an overview of the structure of your thesis.
All content in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant to your research. In the end, the reader must understand the what, why, and how of your research.
Literature review / Theoretical framework
Before you begin your research, you must have done a literature review. This way you will be able to know in depth the academic works that already exist on your subject. This means:
- Collect sources (e.g. books and journal articles) and select the most relevant ones
- Critically evaluate and analyze each source
- Establish connections between them. For example, themes, patterns, conflicts, gaps, to establish a general point of view.
In the chapter or section of bibliographic review of the thesis, you should not limit yourself to summarizing the existing studies. You must develop a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear basis or justification for your own research. For example, you might try to show how your research:
- Addresses a gap in literature
- Adopts a new theoretical or methodological approach to the subject
- Proposes a solution to an unsolved problem
- Advances a theoretical debate
- It builds on existing knowledge and reinforces it with new data.
Literature review often becomes the basis of a theoretical framework. Here the key theories, concepts and models that frame the research are defined and analyzed. In this section you can answer descriptive research questions about the relationship between concepts or variables.
The chapter or methodology section describes how the research was conducted. This allows the reader to evaluate its validity. Generally, you should include:
- The approach and type of research
- Data collection methods. For example, interviews, surveys, files.
- Details on where, when and with whom the investigation was conducted
- Your data analysis methods. For example, statistical analysis, discourse analysis
- Tools and materials used. For example, software, laboratory equipment).
- An analysis of the obstacles he faced in conducting the research and how he overcame them
- An evaluation or justification of your methods
The aim of the methodology is to accurately report what has been done, as well as to convince the reader that this is the best approach to answering the questions or objectives of the research.
- Concisely present each relevant result, including relevant descriptive statistics. For example, means, standard deviations, and inferential statistics for example, test statistics, p-values.
- Briefly indicate how the outcome relates to the question or whether the hypothesis is supported.
- Include tables and figures if they help the reader understand your results.
- Communicate all results that are relevant to your research questions. It should include those who have not met your expectations.
- Do not include subjective interpretations or speculations.
Additional data (including raw numbers, completed questionnaires, or interview transcripts) may be included as an appendix.
The discussion explores the meaning and implications of the results in relation to the research questions. The results must be interpreted in detail here. It should be discussed whether they meet expectations and whether they fit in with the framework that has been built in the previous chapters.
- Explain your interpretations: what do the results mean?
- Explore the implications: why are results important?
- Recognize the limitations: what can’t the results tell us?
If any of the results are unexpected, explain why. The discussion should be referred to the relevant sources to show how its results fit in with existing knowledge.
The conclusion of the thesis should concisely answer the main question of the research. Leave the reader with a clear understanding of your central argument and highlighting what your research has contributed.
At some academic conventions, the conclusion refers to a short section preceding the discussion. The general conclusions are first set out directly and then their meaning is discussed and interpreted.
In other contexts, however, the conclusion refers to the final chapter, where the thesis is concluded with a final reflection on what has been found. This type of conclusion usually also includes recommendations for future research or practices.
In this chapter, it is important to leave the reader with a clear impression of why their research is important. What have you added to what was already known?
List of references
You should include the full details of all the sources you’ve cited in a reference list. It is sometimes also called a list of cited works or bibliography. It is important to follow a consistent citation style. Each style has strict and specific requirements about the format of the fonts in the reference list.
The most common styles are APA and MLA, but your program usually specifies which citation style to use. Be sure to check the requirements and ask your supervisor if you are unsure.
To save time in creating the reference list and make sure your appointments are formatted correctly and consistently, you can use Scribbr’s citation generator.
Editing and proofreading
Making sure all sections are in the right place is only the first step to a well-written thesis. Allow enough time for editing and proofreading. Grammatical and formatting errors can detract from the quality of your work.
You should plan to write and review various drafts of your thesis or dissertation before focusing on linguistic errors, errata, and inconsistencies. You can consider using a professional thesis editing service to make sure it’s perfect before submitting it.
Use this simple checklist to make sure you’ve included everything essentials.
As for the preliminary pages
- My cover includes all the information required by my university.
- I have included thanks to those who have helped me.
- The summary of the thesis is very concise and gives the reader a clear idea of my main conclusions or arguments.
- I have created an index to help the reader navigate my thesis.
- The index includes all chapter titles, but excludes the cover, acknowledgements, and abstract.
As for the Introduction
- My introduction leads to my topic in an attractive way and shows the relevance of my research.
- My introduction clearly defines the focus of my research, setting out my questions and research objectives.
- The introduction includes a summary of the structure of the thesis.
As for the bibliography
- I have reviewed the most important bibliography to show the current state of knowledge on my subject.
- My literature review is not limited to summarizing, but is critically committed to the sources, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing research.
- The literature review analyzes patterns, themes and debates in the literature.
- My literature review shows how my thesis addresses a gap or brings something new to existing research.
As for the development of research
- I have clearly outlined the theoretical framework of my research, explaining the theories and models that underpin my approach.
- My methodology has been thoroughly described, explaining how I have collected and analyzed the data.
- I have concisely and objectively communicated all the relevant results.
- I have evaluated and interpreted the meaning of the results in my discussion.
- Significant limitations in results have been recognized.
- I have clearly stated the answer to my main research question in conclusion.
- I have clearly explained the implications of my conclusion, emphasizing the new knowledge that my research has brought.
- Relevant recommendations have been provided for future research or practice.
- If relevant, I have included appendices with additional information.
- I’ve included a quote within the text whenever I’ve used words, ideas, or information from a source.
- All sources have been listed in a list of references at the end of my thesis.
- I have consistently followed the rules of the citation style I have chosen.
- I have followed all the formatting guidelines provided by my university.
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