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Dissertation Structure: The Conclusive Guide

Dissertation StructureYour dissertation structure is a critical facet of dissertation writing whose importance must be overemphasized.
Indeed, there are possibilities that your dissertation might be the longest piece of writing that you have ever done, basing that on the general rule of five to twenty-thousand-word limit.
While each university might have its own requirements, there is an overall dissertation structure that must be followed. Where this is unclear,  a professional dissertation editor can help a great deal.
This article presents the basic and most important dissertation structure elements. It attempts to be as exhaustive as possible.The order of the headings should be closely observed unless for cases where the dissertation committee has ordered otherwise. However, the dissertation should not be limited to the mentioned headings.
Generally, your dissertation will have six substantive chapters:

  1. Introduction
  2. Literature review
  3.  Methodology
  4. Results/Findings and Analysis
  5. Discussion
  6. Conclusion/Conclusion and Recommendations

Two-three critical but complimentary chapters

  • References
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices

In addition, your dissertation structure will have other procedural subheadings at the beginning, Including:

  • Declaration
  • Acknowledgement
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Abbreviations

Before delving into the dissertation structure, you may be interested in getting some time management tips necessary for a quicker dissertation writing speed.

This dissertation structure guide focuses on substantive and complimentary chapters.

Dissertation Structure #1: Introduction

This is the first chapter in the dissertation structure and describes the research question and problem before giving out the main reasoning behind it, which is normally referred to as the theoretical argument. The theoretical argument basically justifies the study, when looking at the importance of the information it is supposed to provide. The main aim here is to test or come up with a theory or to further understand, explain or even describe a complex educational issue. To write an authentic introduction, the following must be done:

a). Background Information

Here, you the stage of your dissertation by the general description of the main areas of concern, and normally takes three to four paragraphs.

It begins by broad statements on the area of study and narrows to the specific title in a clever, interesting and succinct manner.

b). The Problem Statement

A statement that clearly outlines the problem that the dissertation seeks to solve, it’s significance and why it must be addressed/explored now.

A clear significance statement is directly connected to the topic undertaken must be included

The importance of carrying out the study

Although the section might not be lengthy, it has to be powerful

It also provides practical and theoretical reasons behind the research questions answers.

3. Examining the Study’s Theoretical Basis

The arrangement of the variables that will be used in answering the study questions should have certain theoretical basis.

You should clearly explain the ways in which the most relevant theoretical points of view assists in conceptualizing the research. It is in the second chapter of Literature Review where completing theoretical perspectives should be reviewed.

The theoretical definitions of all vital terminologies should be included here but not the operational definitions, as they will appear in the methods area.

This part may include the theoretical and conceptual frameworks of the dissertation.

4. Critically Survey and Study the “Very Relevant Literature”

The research contained in the existing literature can help you in coming up with the best argument for your dissertation, as they include all the main variables that are found in the proposed research.

You might, therefore, be required to study just the intersection of a subject of variables and doing it again with an additional group of variables since the literature does not contain all the variables included in extant research.

5. The Hypotheses and Research Questions

In normal circumstances, there shall be some research questions as well as a myriad of hypotheses for each of them.

In this section, the variables should be operationalized. Instead, the hypotheses and theoretical questions written in the constructs’ language should be used.

A good research question should appear in form of a question, give a relationship between the constructs and also be empirically testable.

Some researchers have simplified this by noting that the research questions are merely question forms of the specific objectives of the study.

Hypotheses are basically declarative statements written in directions that can be easily predicted. Such kind of hypotheses are normally referred to as theoretical, scientific and research hypotheses, and are usually written in present tense.

Dissertation Structure #2: Literature Review

Once you have clearly written the objectives of your project, it would now be important to explore and synthesize the conclusions that other studies in the areas made. This section of your dissertation structure addresses this need.

Here, you review the current literature, with the main focus on your research area.

A literature review is particularly important because it:

  •  Establishes an understanding of the topic under study
  • Identifies the gap that the study will fill
  • Justifies the importance of the study
  • Justifies and guides the selection of the research questions/hypotheses

Here are the components that make up the literature review section:

1. Historical Background

a. Ensure everything is placed in the right order. You don’t have to include all the details as it is supposed to be more than a chronology.

b. Examine the controversies and major issues that have affected your research. All relevant variables should have backgrounds.

2. Theory Related to the Hypotheses and Research Questions

a. Explain the theoretical perspectives that have informed your research.

b. Analyze the competing theories and prove the dissertation’s theoretical foundation.

c. Describe the manner in which the theoretical foundation relates to the problem.

3. Present Empirical Literature Relevant to the Hypotheses

a. This section should contain the following;

i. Literature related to specific variables

ii. Literature linked to a certain collection of variables that are relevant to the dissertation.

b. To tie together each section of the empirical literature, you should use transitions as common threads.

c. To improve your research, include discussion of weaknesses and strengths of the previous study’s methodology.

4. To organize this section, the use of both headings and subheadings is recommended

For organizational purposes, relevant literature’s concept map should be made.

Dissertation Structure #3: Methodology

This is the third chapter and should offer enough details about the technique that has been applied in the study. The subsections in this chapter normally include the following;

  • Participants
  • Instruments
  • Materials
  • Procedures, and
  • Data Analysis

1. Participants

The consideration of human subjects and IRB clearance.

a) Describe the subjects with sufficient detail so that the reader can effectively visualize on them. It is vital to delineate some of the most important characteristics.

b) The methods used in collecting the samples should be explained in full details. If a sample of convenience is used, for instance, that should be adequately explained.

c) To determine the size of the sample for the proposal, it would also be important to carry out a report power analysis. These findings should be kept in the final document.

d) Should there be an attrition, it is vital to state the number of subjects that dropped out, as well as the reasons behind the attrition, and other details regarding the attrition.

e) The handling of the missing data should also be discussed.

2. Measures

a) If there is a new measurement technique or an unpublished instrument used, then it should be described in detail. Copies of the entire unpublished instruments should be included in the appendices. When unpublished instruments are used, there are chances that validity and reliability analyses might form part of the dissertation.

b) Published techniques and instruments that have been earlier used should be referenced using the best citations.

c) This section should be arranged depending on the measured constructs. For measures that involve a number of constructs, you should be very clear while describing the measure which constructs are accessed and offer particular validity and reliability data for the subscale.

3. Research Design

a) You should use the accepted terminology while describing the general description of the design of the research such as Kirk, 1982, Cook & Campbell, 1979.

b) List both the dependent and independent variables as well as their operational definitions.

c) A figure or a diagram of the design should also be included.

3. Procedures

a) Procedures must be described in enough details.

b) The method of collecting data must be explained if a survey is used. Other things to include are the description of the procedures used, the rate of return, as well as the rate of return.

c) The copies that have been used in the intervention should also be included in the appendix area.

4. Data Analysis

a) Each of the hypothesis and research question should be clearly restated.

b) Each of the hypothesis should then be followed by a choice of statistical analysis to clearly address each one of them.

c) Ensure that you include the assumption and a brief description regarding the statistical analysis that is going to be tested, as well as the rationale for each of the picked statistical methodology picked.

d) The alpha levels that are to be used to determine the statistical importance should also be stated.

It is, however, important to note that these aspects may change depending on whether your dissertation employs a qualitative research method, Quantitative research method or mixed research method.

It will also depend on whether you rely on primary data or secondary data in answering your research questions or testing your hypotheses.

For instance, a study that relies on a systematic review of literature will not have study participants but will have the rest subtitles as stated.

Dissertation Structure #4: Results/Findings and Analysis

This is the chapter where the results of the analyses are normally presented in the order of research question as well as any results of other additional analyses. It is important to present the results without any kind of interpretation as they are supposed to be included in the fifth chapter’s discussion. For additional information that pertains to the methods section, you should refer to the APA manual.

1. This is the order of presentation for a Nomothetic Studies

a. The descriptive statistics that contain the standard deviations, the frequencies, and the means for the entire study’s variables.

b. The preliminary statistical analyses that include the correlation matrices.

c. To answer the hypotheses and research questions, the statistical analyses are used.

2. Statistical Analyses Used to Answer the Hypotheses and Research Questions

a. To organize the results, the hypotheses and questions should be outlined.

b. Each of the hypothesis should be clearly restated followed by the assumption tests results, and then followed by the data analyses that give the answers to the hypothesis.

c. Report the effect sizes and the test of the statistical power.

3. Use Figures and Tables to Organize the Data

a. Each figure or table should be clearly referenced within the text.

b. To enable your readers to understand the tables and figures without having to refer to the text, they should contain full information.

c. Do not forget to put the figures and tables immediately after their first mention in the text.

Indeed, there are instances that your dissertation may not require any statistical analyses.
For instance, qualitative studies do not often need statistical analysis. Some social science dissertations will require such less quantitative data analysis methods as content analysis.

Dissertation Structure #5: Discussion 

The main results are interpreted based on the research questions and jointly analyzed in comparison with the other literature. The limitation of implications and interpretation for additional research might also be presented.

The following are contained in this section;

1. Summary

a. This is where the results are briefly summarized and discussed in terms that are not statistical.

b. You should also answer the hypothesis and research questions in this section.

2. Conclusions

a. This section should be arranged with headings

b. The results of the implications should also be discussed in a theoretical manner.

c. Highlight both the consistencies and inconsistencies and ensure that the results of the reported studies in the literature are properly cited.

d. It is okay to speculate on the meaning of the results so long as it is what the writer is explicitly doing.

3. Limitations

a. This is a barrier or a weakness that limits both the external and internal validity of the results, like in the case of using illustrations that have specific characteristics like all males.

b. In most instances, limitations include a statement of the generalizability of the results, as well as controls that might be hard to implement.

4. The Recommendations for Future Results

a. They offer guidance based on the findings of the dissertation, and they normally link to the extant empirical and theoretical base.
b. Explains why the proposed research is required and the kind of forms it should take.

Dissertation Structure #6: Conclusion

The conclusion is the final aspect of the substantive chapters of your dissertation. It is ideally a summary of all the overarching points in the dissertation.
The conclusion must not introduce any aspects of the topic that have not been explored in the dissertation. It is normally short and precise.

Dissertation Structure #7: References

Referencing or citing as it is commonly called is acknowledging the sources of information that have been used in the written assignment.

Referencing acknowledges the work of the author whose work you have used and enable other readers to locate the cited item. Failure to do that can amount to plagiarism.

To cite in the best manner, it would be important to use a referencing style, which is a way of recording the elements of a journal article, a book, or even a website.

Here are the common referencing styles that are used in a dissertation:


This is a referencing style that was created by the American Psychological Association, hence the title APA. The APA guidelines are normally found in the American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual, as well as a number of online guides. It is a style used by many researchers, journals, as well as students within the social and behavioral science.

• Harvard

This referencing style comes in many shapes, and is an author/date system, therefore, the in-text citation would be made up of the year of publication of the author {s}. the reference in part of the bibliography should then be arranged in an alphabetic order.

• Oxford/Chicago/Footnote

Oxford and Chicago citation styles are among the ones that use footnotes or certain numbers refereeing back to the bibliography.


This referencing method follows the author-page in-text citation method. This implies that the last name of the author and the page number [s] from which the paraphrase or the quotation is taken must be cited.
Other referencing styles include Vancouver, AMA, ASA and OSCOLA

Dissertation Structure #8: Bibliography

The dissertation structure may also include a bibliography section. The bibliography refers to sources that the author used in the process of study but were not critical and thus were not cited.
As such, references listed here are not cited in the dissertation text

Dissertation Structure #9: Appendices

An appendix is a very important tool for offering additional information to the dissertation. It is important to note that appendices normally appear in the order which they have been introduced in the main text. In cases where you have more than one appendix, each of them should be lettered in the best manner such as Appendix I, Appendix II etc.

Further reading:

Psychology Dissertation outline

Coventry High Education Toolkit’s Dissertation 

Students’ Dissertation Handbook

Doctoral Dissertation  Writing Manual