How to Structure a Dissertation 101

How to Structure a Dissertation 101

Typical students submit dissertations as part of their Ph.D., Bachelors, or Masters programs. As previously discussed, dissertations are long pieces of original research. Because of their length, most students find structuring a dissertation a challenge.

But why is structuring a dissertation so important? It proves you can organize your research effectively. What is more, structuring your paper improves and simplifies the writing process. It also demonstrates your ability to adhere to research project requirements. 

If you want to excel in your dissertation project, you should understand the structure of a dissertation. So hold on tight as this piece walks you through the dissertation structure, its main parts, and common pitfalls to avoid.  

What is a Dissertation Structure?

A dissertation structure is a plan for the whole paper. A typical dissertation consists of chapters divided into paragraphs. In contrast to average essays, dissertations are much more complex. And lengthy. 

A primary challenge of writing a dissertation is not the number of rules but its structure. Well-written dissertations contain chapters, headings, subheadings, and paragraphs. So, read on to find out more about a dissertation’s main parts.  

Main Parts  of a Dissertation

Each part of a dissertation is valuable. Even so, you should include the correct elements when structuring a dissertation.  While the structure below is the most popular, different countries and fields may vary the order of sections. If in doubt,  always refer to guidelines your department or supervisor provides. 

Below is a summary of the essential parts of a dissertation’s structure: 

Title Page

It is the first page of your dissertation paper and provides readers relevant information about the current research paper. Note that title page requirements differ across referencing styles.  So, always follow the appropriate referencing style or department requirements.  


It is a section that explains copyright.  Use it to assert your exclusive ownership of the content your dissertation presents. Plus, notify readers of any borrowed concepts and permission for any images or illustrations used here.   


An optional section. It lets you express gratitude for any help extended throughout the project. Thank any participants, friends, family, and supervisors regardless of their contributions here. 

Abstract/Executive Summary

This section is a summary of your dissertation’s thesis.  It provides first-time readers with an overview of your research project. Ensure you 

  • Describe the main topic and research aims
  • Explain the research method used
  • Include a summary of main results  and:
  • Summarize the conclusion

While abstracts are short (150-300 words), you should get it right. Why? Because your readers engage with this section before others. 

Table of Contents (TOC)

A TOC is a logical outline of your dissertation’s structure. It lists your paper’s primary headings and subheadings.  For clarity, always label sections appropriately and include page numbers. 

List of Figures and Tables

Typical research papers summarize and present data using tables and figures. So, include a section to document all tables and figures appearing in your paper. List these elements as they appear and use appropriate captions.  

List of Abbreviations

If your paper includes many abbreviations, you should have this section. Use it to present an alphabetized list of all abbreviations.


Always include a glossary of specialized terms unfamiliar to your audience. Sort these terms alphabetically and briefly describe each term.  

After outlining these sections, it is time to structure the “meat” of your dissertation research paper. But you might ask, how do I organize the content of my dissertation? Follow the outline below to arrange your dissertation’s content. 

Chapter 1: Introduction

The section is a brief overview of the entire dissertation.  It helps readers understand the contents of the whole paper. A practical introduction also informs readers of your dissertation’s topic, purpose, relevance, and thesis statement. 

Chapter 2: Literature Review

This section evaluates the implications and findings of existing literature on the research topic. It identifies the research gap the current research addresses. 

Chapter 3: Methodology

The methodology section explains the research methodology used.  Note that different research methodologies suit various research topics. For this reason, ensure you select a method that fits your research area. 

Chapter 4: Results

After collecting and analyzing research data, it’s time to present your results. Chapter 4 of a dissertation typically presents and describes the results of data analysis. However, it does not discuss the implication or meaning of data. Its purpose is descriptive, not analytical. 

We suggest structuring the Results section around hypotheses, themes, or subsections. For brevity, include raw data, questionnaires, or interview transcripts in the Appendix section.

Chapter 5: Discussion

The Discussion section explores the meaning and implications of your research findings.  Use it to present an in-depth interpretation of your results. What is more, discuss whether results meet research expectations within the conceptual framework developed in previous chapters. 

If possible, offer alternative explanations of unexpected results or data. While at it, reference relevant sources to connect your findings to existing knowledge or literature.

Bonus Tip: Note that some institutions combine the Results and Discussion sections into one chapter. Hence, consult your institution regarding these sections. 

Chapter 6: Conclusion

Just like in other forms of writing, the conclusion summarizes the major points of your dissertation. Be sure to restate the thesis and findings of the research.

Reference List

By now, you have written other types of research papers and essays. How do I do so? Attribute all sources, concepts, philosophies, or theoretical frameworks to their rightful owners. A reference list contains all the sources used within the dissertation. You can arrange the list alphabetically or chronologically, depending on the academic format used. 


Your dissertation paper should present content that answers the research question directly. Sometimes you might use supplementary sources that don’t fit the structure outlined here.  If so, document these sources in the Appendices sections.   

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Most students lack the enthusiasm for writing a dissertation. While planning research, preparing, and writing a dissertation is daunting, it is critical to your academic and professional development. Even so, avoid the following common pitfalls to craft a compelling dissertation paper:

  • Plagiarism:  Always present original content. Do so by correctly citing and reference all sources used to develop and support your argument.  
  • Using an incorrect research methodology: Before writing your dissertation, critically analyze and identify an appropriate research methodology. Remember dissertation’s validity of your findings depends on the relevance of the research methodology utilized.
  • Edit and proofread your paper: Before submitting your final draft, edit and proofread it carefully. It should have no grammatical and spelling mistakes. Also, make sure you have followed the correct structure as stipulated by your school or department. 

Wrap Up!

And there you have it! A practical approach for structuring your dissertation paper.  We hope this post dispels any anxiety or doubts you have regarding the structure of a dissertation. Still, if you are struggling with your dissertation writing project, reach out to us for assistance. At Elite Homework Writers, we are more than glad to help you.